Wednesday, April 18, 2018

10 Years of Gymkhana - Ken Block's Beginnings

Ken Block.  I really can't think of an easy way to describe him without a ridiculously long run-on sentence.  From his start in rallying to the head of Hoonigan Racing to all the products and swag he's created and supported over the years, there's just too much to cover.  A big part of his success today stems from a series of videos bearing the "Gymkhana" name.  2018 will mark not only the 10th year of that, but the release of the highly anticipated "Gymkhana Ten" where he'll travel to 5 different locations with 5 different cars being featured.  But amidst all the reminiscing I've seen over these, there's one thing that's been overlooked: it started with a Subaru.

Yeah, I know.  I'm a big Subaru fanboy.  And I used to be one of those "Ken shouldn't have left Subaru for Ford" people, but I eventually figured out why it was best that he made the switch.  Leaving Subaru was probably the smartest (and hardest) decision Kenny from the Block has made.  From achieving his dreams in competing in the World Rally Championship to building an incredibly successful franchise for himself, there's no plausible way I could say that leaving Subaru was a mistake.  If you're still whining about Ken's departure from Subaru like I was, you're missing the big picture.  Ken did what it took to be successful and achieve his dreams.  It just turned out that he couldn't do that with Subaru.

That being said, we can't celebrate 10 years of Gymkhana by just looking back at the last 8 years with Ford.  Therefore, my inner Subaru fanboy is turning the dial back two years before Block and Ford hooked up.  It wasn't even called "Gymkhana One".  Ken's first foray into becoming a YouTube sensation was in a 2-year-old Subaru in a run-down airfield.  Still, this is where Ken took Gymkhana from just cone-dodging and box drills to an elaborate cinematic choreographed spectacle of smoking tires and sideways driving.  Clipping past entire buildings, driving circles around a man driving a Segway, spinning figure-8s through a hangar... Gymkhana was redefined with this single video.



In the wake of that initial success, Ken took it another step further.  This time he did it with a shiny new 2008 Subaru WRX STI tuned by Crawford Performance, his friend Rob Dyrdek, and DC Shoes right in the spotlight.  Then take the same insane driving that got him famous with Gymkhana Practice, give that film team a pay raise, drizzle in shameless product placement, and you've got a recipe for a smashing sequel.  "Gymkhana Two: The Infomercial" checked all the boxes with flashier filming, explosions, tire-slaying driving, and Dyrdek got to shoot Ken with a paintball gun.  What's not to like?



While Gymkhana Practice was responsible for getting things started, the tone that Gymkhana Two set propelled the rest of the series forward.  These two films created the spark that would ignite the internet and fuel Ken's continued pursuit of creating some of the most jaw-dropping viral videos to date.  As the stunts, cars, and locations get more and more extreme with each production, we owe some thanks to Ken and his Subaru for starting things off right.

Monday, April 9, 2018

NSOC Summer Meets Resume!


It's been a strange spring so far, but with 70 Degree temperatures on the way for the region starting Wednesday, now seems as good a time as ever to get back into gear with Subaru Meets!  For several years, the Nebraska Subaru Owners Club has convened on a weekly basis at Baxter Subaru in Omaha, NE.  In the wintertime, the group typically meets up, decides where to grab dinner together, and roll out shortly thereafter.  In the warmer summer months though, the NSOC hangs out from 7pm-10pm.  The better the weather, the better the turnout! 

While the group is predominantly WRX and WRX STI owners, there's a good mix of cars at every meet.  Legacy GTs, BRZs, Foresters, Outbacks, Imprezas, Crosstreks, even some older Subarus manage to make it out.  From street machines to off-road crawlers, there's quite the variety of Subarus there, too.  Sometimes local Subaru Ambassadors make it out and have Subie Swag to give away, too!

If you're in the area, plan on Wednesday Nights for your weekly dose of Subaru!  Meet up with the Nerbaska Subaru Owners Club this summer!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Goodbye Red Bull GRC, Hello ARX!

The rallying landscape in the United States continues to shift with recent news of Red Bull Global Rallycross making a major change with this season.  In a recent announcement about new class formations for the 2018 season, they've parted ways with the Supercar series along with the manufacturers that brought their production-based rallycross cars to compete for the podium.  With this sudden departure, one would expect Volkswagen, Honda, Subaru, and Ford to be done with Rallycross in the US... but another new organization as emerged to take on these Supercars.

The "Americas Rallycross", or ARX, will be launching their own championship.  Spearheaded by IMG, the ones behind promotion of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, the series will incorporate the manufacturer-led teams into a similar format.  Not only that, but fans won't have to wait long for the ARX to make it's competition debut in May (one month earlier than the existing Red Bull GRC series).  It may seem odd that a racing series named "Americas Rallycross" will see it's inaugural event held at Silverstone in the UK, but it's good to see the series coming together so quickly.  With commitment from Subaru and Volkswagen already, many of the top stars that led the GRC last year are already confirmed to move forward with the newly formed ARX.

While GRC ventures into their new class-based racing for 2018, the ARX seems to have the makings of success early on.  Red Bull GRC's loss of the Supercars could be the ARX's gain.  It'll be interesting to see how each plays out this season!

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Day On Ice: Subaru Winter Experience

When I heard that Patrik Sandell of Subaru Rally Team USA was bringing his Flatout Sweden ice driving school to a frozen lake near me, I was already looking at my calendar to see when I could make it.  All that stood between me and spinning studded tires on ice was a 10-hour drive from my home in Nebraska to Eagle River, Wisconsin.  Game on!

The Subaru Winter Experience featured a day-long driving school held on Dollar Lake in Wisconsin.  Carved into the iced-over lake, 5 different courses were set to teach drivers in BRZs, WRXs, and WRX STIs how to handle these machines in frozen conditions.  Instructors from DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, WA were also on hand to run the event alongside Patrik and his team from Sweden.

I took Friday to travel up to Chanticleer Inn, where the event was being hosted from.  Night was falling as I reached the snowy town in my STI, so I pulled up to the lodge to get an idea on where to go the next day.  It was easy to see where the Subaru Winter Experience would be based out of.  BRZs, WRXs, and WRX STIs clad in Method Race Wheels and studded ice tires lined the entrance to the lodge.  Inside I found drivers who had just completed their day on the lake.  They had nothing but praise for the course they had just completed and were excited to share their stories of Subarus out on the ice.  Talking with them got me even more excited for my chance the next day, so sleeping was a little difficult that night!


That morning I spent a good hour driving through snow-covered back roads around the area.  The scenery was postcard-worthy and my STI was loving the conditions with my snow tires.  After my morning joyride, I met up with the drivers and instructors at the lodge.  Once we were done with breakfast, they gave us a brief explanation of what to expect and sent us out to a fleet of Subarus to drive to the lake and start the course.  I jumped in a WRX STI with another student and followed the caravan through the narrow road to the lake.  Upon arriving, we jumped right in to some driving courses.  The WRXs and WRX STIs we were in started things off with accelerating and braking to feel out how the cars handled in the slick conditions.  I was surprised at how much grip these cars still had until I learned that 400 studs on each tire were likely responsible for keeping us glued to the surface.


Each run we made was followed by feedback from the DirtFish instructors who were keeping a watchful eye on us with each pass.  Radios in each car made instructions for our class easy to follow every time, so the course ran smoothly and efficiently the whole day.  I was impressed with their attention and observations made, even without being in the cars with us.  Everything from driving position to the movement of our hands on the wheel, they were able to pick up on all the details so we could make adjustments quick and make progress with every run.  It was great to have such insightful advice throughout the day as we moved from course to course.

As the day progressed, we changed from All-Wheel Drive courses for the WRX and WRX STI to rear-wheel drive courses for the BRZ.  Slalom courses and technical turns helped us dial in our tail-happy BRZs and open flowing courses let us put the AWD to the test with the WRXs.  There was plenty of time driving all of the vehicles, letting us make more adjustments each time and start mastering the basic skills we had started off the day with.  During the runs, we were also invited to explore the different traction control settings in the car not only from a safety aspect, but also to let us learn the limits of our cars without being towed out of a snow bank if we got a little too confident!

All the while, as we got to know our Subarus more, we also go to know each other more.  The camaraderie between the students and instructors made it feel less like a class and more like a good time out with friends.  Sharing the wheel with our fellow classmates, cheering each other on, and laughing at our mistakes kept the atmosphere light and fun.  Regardless of our driving backgrounds, our class collectively improved with each pass and it was rewarding not only to see that first-hand, but to feel your own skills getting dialed in with each run.

The last course had a bit of everything.  As such, we were invited to drive all three cars through as often as we liked.  Certain areas of this 2-mile long course favored the BRZ while other sections let the WRX and WRX STI shine, so we could appreciate both types of drive systems that we had been learning through the day.  My co-driver and I had been working our way toward turning the traction control nannies completely off to complete this monster of a course, so it was rewarding to make it through on skill alone.  Little did we know that we were about to go from feeling like Driving Gods to bed-wetting babies with the instructors parting gift.


Patrik Sandell rounded up the students and instructors one last time on the lake.  It was time for them to show us how it was really done!  One by one, each student got the ride of their life in a WRX STI and a BRZ with one of the instructors.  I managed to jump in with Patrik in a WRX STI and was absolutely floored at how effortlessly he drove through the course.  At a spot where I had managed to hit 52 mph, Patrik passed the same point doing 64... and he was sideways through most of it!  If that wasn't enough, Michelle Miller from DirtFish took me through the course in a BRZ and made poetry out of the course, transitioning each corner flawlessly.  It was a humbling experience in both cars!

I can't think of another time when I had so much fun and learned so much.  It was so easy to understand and feel the cars on ice, so I'm hoping the skills I honed on Dollar Lake will make their way into my rallycross driving at home.  More than that, it was such a great time enjoying a day of driving with my fellow classmates and our instructors.  The Subaru Winter Experience really lived up to it's name.  It's an experience I'll never forget.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Baja Blast: Heart Transplant

This 2006 Subaru Baja Turbo has a new lease on life.  Since October of 2017, I've managed to complete a long list of repairs, replacements, and improvements to turn back the clock on it's once dismal maintenance history (or lack thereof).  A new OEM short block now lies at the heart of this turbo truck along with a host of other goodies to help it along.  Here's the quick version of what we did!

Along with the new EJ25 short block, we rebuilt the heads, resealed valves, cleaned valves and valve seats as needed, and sealed it up with a OEM Master Gasket Kit. It's bolted up tight with ARP head studs. The turbo has been rebuilt along with a Perrin Up Pipe to delete one of the unnecessary catalytic converters.  To improve oil circulation, we replaced the stock oil pan with a '06 WRX STI oil pan along with a matching dipstick for proper oil level readings.  The Water Pump, Timing Belt, and all of the pretensioners were replaced as well as a handful of sensors and hoses that were going bad.  

After 1,000 miles of break-in, I'll put Full Synthetic oil back in and call it a day.  Outside of the head studs, up-pipe and STI oil pan, the rest of the replacement components were all OEM parts.  It took us awhile to get all of this done, but most of it was just waiting on parts to arrive.  Most of the major things were in stock but some of the hoses and lifters required a special order from Subaru.  

All-in-all with everything buttoned up, this Baja should be good to go for awhile.  Basic maintenance is easy for me to keep up on, so as long as this turbo truck is mine, it'll be running happy and healthy.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Subaru Ascent Pricing & Options

The 2019 Subaru Ascent is set to shake-up the 3rd-Row Crossover segment later this year.  February 15th marks Subaru's 50th Anniversary, so as a present, we get all of our pricing and options questions answered!  Here's all the details on the latest addition to the Subaru Family.

Right off the bat, the entry-level Ascent beats it's competition in price.  Coming with Subaru's EyeSight Driver Assist Technology as standard, the Ascent starts off at $32,970.  That's a bargain considering that it's got more passenger space than the  Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer.  The Ascent also boasts up to 86.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the second and third row seats folded flat. That’s more than Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan Pathfinder.

Up from the starting point, the Ascent price adjusts accordingly with it's 3 other trim levels.  Premium starts at $35,170, Limited starts at $39,970, and the Touring tops out the trim levels at $45,670.  The jump might seem sudden between the Limited and Touring, but there are additional option packages that can still be added to the Limited that inch it closer to Touring price territory.

As with the 2017 Impreza and 2018 Crosstrek, the Ascent is built on the new Subaru Global Platform to optimize straight-line stability, agility and ride comfort with reduced levels of noise, vibration and harshness. The acoustic glass in the windshield and front door glass, coupled with additional soundproofing, provide a quiet ride for everyone.  This technology will continue it's way through the rest of Subaru's lineup as each vehicle is due for their refresh.  The 2019 Forester (coming in Fall of 2018) will be next after the Ascent.

While there's no 6-Cylinder option, the brand-new 260 horsepower 2.4 liter direct injection turbocharged inter-cooled Boxer Four engine lies at the heart of every Ascent.  With 277 lb ft of torque for towing, it still provides competitive fuel economy compared to other 3rd-Row Crossover SUVs.  Expect up to 500 miles out of a 19.3 gallon fuel tank, and that's still with regular unleaded fuel!

The Ascent can come dressed in a variety of color options as well.  Abyss Blue and Crystal White have already been showcased at the LA Auto Show when it made it's premier.  Crystal Black, Ice Silver, Magnetite Gray, Crimson Red, and Tungsten Metallic are all familiar colors on other Subaru models.  The Ascent will add Cinnamon Brown Pearl to those options.  Depending on the color you choose, Black or Tan interiors are available.  There's also a Touring-Level exclusive Java Brown Leather that goes with all colors.

Ordering is currently open at Subaru Retailers  with the first units arriving sometime in June of 2018.

Baja Blast: Time for a Short Block

When I picked up this 2006 Subaru Baja Turbo in October of 2017, I knew it needed some work.  Aside from being absolutely filthy inside and out, a lot of maintenance items had been neglected.  I changed the differential fluid, automatic transmission fluid, brake fluid, all four brake rotors and pads, and replaced the coolant when the new radiator went in.  But before I did all that I knew it would eventually need something more important: a new short block.  That's because when I bought this, it was already 2.5 quarts low on oil and was told the previous owner hardly ever changed the oil to begin with.

If you're unfamiliar with basic vehicle maintenance, neglecting simple things like changing the oil can be detrimental to the life of the engine.  In the case of my turbocharged Baja: it means the dirty oil, low oil level, and +100k mileage has taken it's toll on the piston rings.  It has been burning oil and, even with my monthly oil changes on the car, it wasn't enough to make it through the winter.  When the Check Engine Light came on for timing and AVCS, I knew I needed to do something soon.  It still runs, but a ticking time bomb means that if I were to "drive it into the ground" that I could be looking at even more expensive repairs.  

We'll rebuild the heads, reseal valves, clean valves and valve seats as needed, and seal it up with a Master Gasket Kit.  Figured it'd be smart to use ARP Head Studs as well to hold this sucker together tight.  While the engine is out we'll check out the turbo and make sure things are spinning well there and use a Perrin Up Pipe to delete one of the unnecessary Catalytic Converters.  A new OEM Short Block, along with a couple of other hoses, sensors, and parts will be making their way under the hood to give this Baja a clean bill of health and, as long as it's in my care, a good healthy life ahead of it.

Once this is buttoned up, it'll also have some other bits added to it.  I'll have a good update for the Baja Blast in March when it's ready!