2009 X Games Rally Car ride along – Click above for high-res image gallery
If you've never been given a "hot lap" by a professional driver, let me try and convey what the experience is like. You're usually dehydrated and have been standing on a heat-soaked paddock for far too long. There's a track rat (or two) whose job it is to get a helmet and HANS device fastened on you and their default thinking is that you've never even seen a track before, much less driven on one. You're wearing your street clothes, and items like your wallet and cell phone make it even harder for them to get you shoehorned and belted into the seat. The passenger seats are typically much narrower than the driver's seat and you're typically much fatter than the driver. It can be pretty embarrassing. Once you're secured, the driver sticks his hand out, you shake it and then you're off.
Follow the jump to find out what happens next.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonny Lieberman / Weblogs, Inc.
Before we continue, I have to say a word about the drivers. They are the best in the world at what they do. Imagine being thrown on a tandem bicycle with Lance Armstrong, or lining up behind Peyton Manning. These guys are that pro, and you're that amateur. With that in mind, you rocket out of the pits and are almost always shocked by the way-faster-than-you've-ever-gone-before acceleration. But it's fun, right up until they brake for the first corner. That's when you are hurled against the five-point harness with at least one g of force. And there are no fancy-pants grab handles for you to clutch onto; your arms are folded against your chest. Before you have time to process what just happened, the driver is back on the throttle and you're rocketing off to the next braking zone.
Take all of the above, and then add in the controlled chaos of full throttle oversteer inherent to rally cars and you have but a taste of what I went through yesterday afternoon at the 2009 X Games journalist ride-alongs. Subaru invited us out to sample their three hottest STIs piloted by their best drivers. How do the names Pastrana, Block and Mirra strike you? When my number was called, I found myself tied up next to Dave Mirra in his Open Class WRX STI. Like a bullet we're off, the car's 425+ lb-ft of torque easily overcoming the Subaru's 3,000-pound curb weight. Then he's on the brakes, and we're sideways into turn one. Thing is, Mirra is such an outstanding driver (he's medaled in every X Games since 1995) and the '09 STI is such a great machine that it was almost relaxing. I sat there giggling like a baby and waving to the cameras. Before I was halfway done laughing, the ride was over.
I ran into none other than Tanner Foust before my ride. This year Tanner is driving Ford Racing's new Fiesta rally car. "How's the car," I asked the X Games XIII gold medalist? Tanner shook his head and said, "It's like a pissed off little animal." I knew I had to hitch a ride. Ford was nice enough to accommodate me and once again I found all 235 pounds of my blogger's physique sardined inside Kenny Brack's car and shaking hands with the 1999 Indy 500 winner. Immediately following the handshake and a few pleasantries, we were off. This was much different. The decades of refinement that accompanied the Subaru were nowhere to be found in the Ford. The best way I can describe the experience is "hard core." Violent would be the second best way. There was no giggling from me as Kenny ripped through the gears in rapid fire succession. This time I was scared, and much too preoccupied with not dying to do anything as pretentious as wave. Foust was correct. The scrappy little Fiesta was exactly like an angry badger running around a linoleum floor.
I'm not going to make any predictions about the outcome of Sunday's race. Mostly because I'm not qualified to do so, but also because both Ford and Subaru are fielding serious machines and exceptional drivers. To draw a parallel with other series, Subaru has emerged as the Ferrari of X Games rallying. They simply win. Ford however, is well positioned to imitate themselves. Let's never forget what upstart Ford racing did to Ferrari at Le Mans in the mid-1960s. Tune into ESPN on Sunday to see for yourself.