Bad Idea or Worst Idea: RallyCrossing a Lowered M3

What’s RallyCross? Well, it’s like AutoCross – the sport where you spend six hours standing around in a parking lot in exchange for six minutes of seat time. But instead put it out in the middle of nowhere so it’s hard to get to, exchange the nice clean paved surface for grass, dirt, and mud. Add flies, blowing dust, wet socks, and allergies. Cut speeds in half and quadruple the abuse your car takes. Then add the near constant obnoxious BRAAAAP of a mostly uncorked Boxer engine and you’d be close. And you know what? It is SO. MUCH. FUN.

It Feels Like the First Time

I’ve tried RallyCrossing twice before. The first one was supposed to be a snow race in February but it hit 50 degrees for a few days before the event and it ended up being a mud bog. Not great for a car with 2 inches of ground clearance. For the second event of the year, the BMW was broken (surprise…) so I took the Focus, and it ended up being more of a sand bog with sandy ruts 8 to 12 inches deep through some of the turns. Even so, I did manage to beat all of the stock Subarus.

In both of those cases, the conditions were poor enough that we only did 3 runs, meaning I traded four hours of driving and another four hours of standing around in exchange for 3 minutes of racing. Not so cool.

But finally the stars aligned and I was able to take the M3 to an event that promised a decent hard-packed surface and lots of runs.

Let’s play in the dirt.

A photo posted by Mikael Gustafson (@mikaelvroom) on


If you’ve been to an autocross, everything will be familiar – the course walks, the driver’s meeting, the gridding, the Miatas absolutely wrecking everyone else.


And while it’s totally possible to RallyCross your daily driver, the level of abuse that a RallyCross car takes is high enough that you’ll see more dedicated RallyCross cars. These range from a stock Festiva or Cavalier right up to a legit rally car with a functional roof scoop that would make Brian Earl Spilner jealous.


A photo posted by Mikael Gustafson (@mikaelvroom) on

And just like AutoCross, everyone is there to have a good time and is incredibly friendly and willing to help out with advice, loaning tools, or swapping tires.


So…Worst Idea?

How’d the M3 do? Well the course started off as wet grass, which was incredibly slick and led to lots of slidey sideways action, which is fun but slow. After the first heat once it dried up a bit and enough Subarus had gone through using all four wheels to till the fertile Iowa soil, it got grippy. Well, grippier. There was a surprising amount of control and more sideways g-forces than you’d expect. My dad rode along (pictured above) and managed to smash his thumb with his helmet a few times before figuring out where I was going to transition and bracing himself accordingly.

Ample torque from the Explorer 5.0 meant I could spin the tires in 2nd gear any time, any place. My winter Blizzaks did their best and on the rare occasion that I was actually able to point the car straight, it moved.

The Car Broke, Right?

After the first heat I came back to find that someone had dropped off one of my brake vents at my parking spot. And one of my side skirts came loose, but was was easily popped back on. I’m sure I didn’t do the car any favors by blasting across a rough corn field at 40mph, but I drove it home, and that’s more than a couple of cars at the event could say. Also it’s leaking oil now.


I should buy a Miata.

Never Take a Free Car

Don’t be like Mikael. Mikael is dumb. When someone offers Mikael a free vehicle, he takes it. No one ever gives away a vehicle worth owning. No one ever gives away a vehicle worth saving. Like the ineffective ’80s anti-drug campaign preached, Just Say No™.


Do I take my own advice? Of course not. Like a libidinous teenager playing Truth or D.A.R.E., I jump for dare every time, trembling in anticipation of the potential seven minutes in heaven with a gorgeous, curvaceous beauty. Unfortunately, more often than not, seven minutes in heaven turns into seven years in Project Car Hell – tracking down impossible to find parts and dealing with bodgey, hack repairs performed by a multitude of dodgy, hack previous owners. The one upside to a free car is the inevitable weight loss. Unfortunately, that weight loss is entirely a result of your wallet being continually emptied by a billion unforeseen expenses; enough to part you and your cash just about as quickly as your Dave Ramsey-loving spouse can preemptively chop up all of your credit cards. (more…)


Bike Build/Flip: 1976 Honda CB550 Café Racer

It was February of 2009. I’d been at my first real big boy grown up job for about a month and had recently received my first real big boy grown up paycheck. With some cash burning a hole in my pocket and since I was in “training” still at work (training = “Here read this stack of manuals, you have a month…or two…or whatever”), obviously most of my time was spent cruising Craigslist for motorcycles. Amidst all of the $25,000 Harleys and $10,000 sportbikes, I found the perfect listing – something I could pick up with the first paycheck’s leftovers.


DMVR Autocross #2

This video shows my 7th and 3rd laps, respectively. My third was my fastest of the day. I tried going the other way in the first optional slalom on the 4th and blew a gate. I missed the same cone in laps 5 and 6, the rear end got loose in the first part of 7 (as you can see), and 8 was mostly clean but about 0.4s slower than lap 3. Read On…