Lots of people think that driving in the snow is dangerous and tricky, and some even believe that they should never drive in the snow. They get a taxi. Maybe they don't have the tires. Maybe they don't have the confidence. Or, maybe, they haven't figured out the most vital key to getting to your destination through even the toughest of blizzards. For this article, I'll forego the usual mention of snow tires as a necessity. It's true. Assume that it is true that you need snow tires. But, don't worry, I don't want to reiterate everyone's favourite "he only crashed because he was going too fast for conditions" or "if you want to drive in the snow, you need snow tires." We're tired of hearing that echo chamber. Let's look at it from a new perspective.
Regardless of snowy conditions, tires, and grip levels in general, when you're trying to get to your destination, you need to leave some space between your car and the car in front. That's a given. Remove grip, add following distance. Add gravel to the situation, you should stay at least 20 seconds behind the car in front to avoid getting stone chips. Add snow, but not snow tires, and, well, the game changes entirely. No longer should there even be a measurable following distance. You need to be at least 30 seconds behind the car in front. Talented drivers could maybe do with only 25 seconds safely.
See, not even a talented driver can stop a car on summer tires in snow, as quickly as even the worst driver can stop a car in snow on winter tires. The difference is huge. But, again, we don't want to tell everyone to just go and get snow tires. You've heard that argument and it's all water under the bridge, if you have the true key to winter driving: an understanding of momentum, braking distances, and smooth driver control inputs.
The key to kicking winter's ass, this winter driving season, lies with the smoothness of the driver. You see, in the midst of the really weird spring of 2016, my region of Ontario, Canada was hit with a truly weird weather pattern. It was 20 degrees in places and I felt like I had to take my snow tires off. The winter tires were overheating and I barely felt safe with driving on them; there was very little traction, and the tires were taking some huge wear & tear damage from the excessive temperatures. I took my snow tires off. Two days later, the temperatures had plummeted fairly unexpectedly, and there was a massive icestorm. I needed to get to work, still, though, and I worked 50 kilometers away, (actually, I literally mean exactly 50 kilometers.)
And I was late. I used my spare time to scrape the ice from the windshield, and I most certainly didn't have time for reinstalling my snow tires, which would take 10 minutes or more.
Instead, I relied upon the same expertise I offer my students. I relied upon the judgement of my stopping distances, braking points, steering reflexes and general driving smoothness. And you know what? I didn't even slide, at all, for the entire drive. My WRX just gripped. I wasn't even on all-seasons. I was on Continental Tire ExtremeContact DW tires. Those are summer only performance/luxury tires. They're made for quiet, brisk summer drives on sunny or maybe rainy days. It wasn't the tires that kept me in control. It was me. It was the fact that I travelled 20 km/h below the speed limit, left 30 seconds of following distance wherever possible, and didn't over-react to the other cars. I planned my braking points and turn-in points to compensate for the lack of grip. I kept my steering neat and tidy. I kept my throttle (mostly) in check, although who can really say that they don't let their turbocharged 265 bhp engine breathe a little from a stop light every once in a while? Way. Too. Much. Fun.
And, it worked. This winter, do what the rest of the internet says and get some good snow tires. Or, don't, since I can't convince you to spend your money on something you don't think is necessary. But, no matter whichever tires you have, don't depend on the tires. Depend on your skill. Your skill and better judgement will not stop at a certain temperature. Your skill only grows with a wider variety of conditions. Get out and drive, even in the winter. Or especially, really. Oh, and say "hello! Like my summer tires?" to every winter tire driver who still wound up in a ditch by overdriving their car as you drive past. Did I mention that I drove past an 8 car pileup on summer tires? Funny, that. I wonder how I did it...
Drake's always been a Subaru guy in the time I knew him. He's the guy I'd go to, if I had a Subaru question right now. His knowledge of Subaru cars fascinates many enthusiasts. His passion inspires many of his friends, too. But, he's a man of a simple vice; he needs speed and power. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that when he decided to sell his previous 2012 WRX, he wanted to buy something even faster - lighter, and with more power. And, where most people would be terrified of buying a car like this - in another province, and with a known faulty transmission - he stayed his path, well aware that his mechanical competence and manufacturer affinity would see him through. Sure enough, he picked up this gorgeous example of a project car with minor blemishes, and proceeded to fix them. He's got plans for this car, rest assured. He had plans for his 2012 WRX, too, but decided that the 2012 platform just wasn't for him. Faster is better. Faster is more fun.
Drake's new project was born as a sedate 2000 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS coupé. It was optioned with the Blue Ridge Pearl paint that it still wears to this day, and... That's all that I really know about the original equipment the car came with - the STi swap was extensive, and then the number of parts added on top of that really further hazes the finer details of the OEM version of the car.
he car was sold somewhere in Canada, as it's a typical left-hand-drive Canadian market car. At some point in its life, however, it received a Version 7 EJ207 swap, Deatschwerks fuel pump, [unknown brand] injectors, and a Forced Performance 76hta turbo. Then it was tuned by Neetronics, fell into the ownership of a man in Montréal, and then experienced hefty transmission trouble, before being posted for sale. Not necessarily in that order, though.
Drake, though, is no stranger to pulling gearboxes and doing transmission work. He assisted me with the clutch replacement on my WRX, and also replaced the clutch on his WRX, as well as replacing a blown gearbox on his WRX. He knew that - no matter what the problem - he could fix it.
He had the car towed back to his home in Ontario, and with only $450 and some spare time, managed to get the car running. The car now runs on a 6 speed gearbox, but with the Melons' Better Driving preferred fixed-torque-split differential for consistent, predictable cornering behaviour. Subaru's Driver-Controlled-Center-Differential never did appeal to me, in much the same way that the GT-R's torque split switching didn't appeal to me. It detracts from the driving experience; the very same driving experience that Drake craves.
Drake's 2.5RSTi was finally on the road, putting down its 387 wheel horsepower in a vicious display of manliness. Every shift causes a huge lunge as the power goes away for the duration of the shift and then a lunge in the opposite direction, pushing you back into the seat when the power returns. Drake's shifts are lightning fast, and smooth when cruising, but even the fastest shifts he can do still result in a big shunt, which is actually a very fun thing. It adds to the excitement and brutality of the car.
That brings us to now, where he just dropped by as he was passing through and took me for a spin to get acquainted with the car. This car is savage. The feeling you get from the cockpit is not toned down. It's visceral. It's aimed in every way at being fast, aggressive and fun. Lots of fun. The winter tires that are currently equipped are nowhere near good enough to keep the power of the brakes under control. The squirm of the sidewalls on this car as its shear, brute braking force pulls you toward the dash is immense. This car's brutality is its most notable feature. If you're beginning to sense a theme, that's good - that "brutality" theme is the theme of the car, played out proudly like the overture of the Ride of the Valkyries.
In a previous article, I mentioned the brakes on the GT-R and said they were "good." They are. But, braking in the GT-R is relaxing compared to this car. The extra 40 centimeters (400 mm) of contact patch on the GT-R is like cheating in a video game. Sure, you're still playing the same game, but the GT-R's brakes can't kill you. The car is too poised, too perfect to ever be as raw and terrifying as this Impreza. That's not to say that the GT-R isn't the better car; for anyone who wants a GT car, the GT-R is the king. Its name implies that. But, if you want an exciting, lively and fun car, this is where you come.
The sound this car makes, in my eyes, comes across as thrilling but brash. It's loud, unique and full of attitude. I named the article after its unique external wastegate noise, very similar to an exceedingly angry rattlesnake, giving you your last warning.
We headed out to a loop of curvy roads through some farmland. The perpetual gravitational pull of this car isn't the true masterpiece. It's not the sort of car that will rearrange your internal organs nor cause your eyes to bleed. Cars barely need to be that fast. But, the way this car responds to the driver, always willing to listen to every input and maintain some composure while still maintaining its willingness to effortlessly slide when commanded to do so is more rewarding than any surgery-inducing madhouse of a car. The car simply glides into corners, and Drake knows exactly how to place the car in the corner to get the best performance out of it. The pair work in tandem very well.
From here on out, though, Drake's focus is shifting towards lap times and so forth. More power, less weight, wider, grippier tires, and bigger brakes await this car. Methanol injection will add power that the tires simply won't be able to handle. So, Drake will install some wider fender flares which are bespoke to the car (no universal fender flares for this car!) in order to accommodate wider tires. With those wider tires, Drake will be able to apply more brake pressure through the pedal without locking up, facilitating the installation of his Stoptech big brake kit. Then, he will strip the interior and install a rollcage... He needs one, with the power this car has, the tracks he visits and the speeds he reaches. That kinda explains a big portion of the decision not to use a shift boot... He just didn't bother, since it's all coming back out again anyways!
Finishing it all up will be some bespoke aerodynamic pieces. I extended my offer to help him design any DIY aerodynamic pieces that he may come to need. We'll have to see if he accepts my offer.
And, with owning a car which is half rat-rod, half race car, and wholly custom, there comes a certain freedom to do whatever you want without concern for what the outside world thinks. They might not get it. But, who cares? It's more fun this way! You can spend $100,000 on a factory supercar and have some fun. But, I believe that this route is much, much more rewarding. Great build and great find, Drake. I'm excited to see what you make of it.
The Porsche 911 RSR has moved its engine forward of the rear axle. Why? And why was the engine behind the rear axle before now? We explain...
In order to understand why the engine placement that Porsche had been using since the inception of the 911 model in 1964. To put it bluntly, technology, engineering and science have all come a long way in those 52 years since the first 911 rolled off of the assembly floor. The car began with racing intentions from its very beginnings, although with a humble horsepower figure, barely in the triple digits. The now-world-famous air-cooled flat six barely breathed above 120 horsepower, in its first years. This was a fairly good thing for the drivers, though; it was more than enough power to propel the car up to speeds where the limited grip of its now-dated tires could easily spell disaster for any person whose bravery exceeded their talent.
But, from the beginning, the 911's designer, Ferdinand Porsche (in this case, the junior of the two) stubbornly insisted on putting the engine in the back of the car. Why? Why would anyone want to put the engine in a spot where the car becomes more difficult to drive?
There are two reasons, actually. The first one is traction. When a vehicle is stationary and about to set forth into motion, then the weight of the car will shift backwards, pressing the tires into the road. If the engine, and therefore the weight, is already sitting on the rear tires, then the car has an ever-so-slight advantage in traction. That's not the main reason why the 911 was rear-engined, but it's a big bonus to the actual main reason.
The main reason, however? Well, it meant that - once the car had gotten up to speed and was approaching a corner - the rest of the performance, be it corner entry direction changes, or braking, (but hopefully not both at the same time, you maniac with a deathwish! This is a Porsche!) or corner apex slip angle. You see, forgetting what I mentioned about the stationary car thing before, where weight transfer helps to improve traction at stationary-to-low speeds, there comes a point where inertia and momentum far exceed the amount of extra grip supplied by the weight transfer. In other words, with higher speeds, the very same advantage in low speed traction works against you, by hindering cornering performance. That weight makes the car lazy, and it won't turn nor change directions as quickly as it labours under the intense load you place on it.
That huge load placed on the tires overwhelms the tires, and suspension, and the car is no longer even nearly as nimble as it would be without that engine being where it is... At least, it wouldn't be as nimble as that, if it had a normal engine placement over the front wheels, like a C1 Corvette with even narrower tires. Placing the engine over the back wheels, however, meant that the front of the 911 became agile, where the car's front half entered the corner with such vigor that the rear ended up sliding out if you weren't careful. But, in capable hands, this gave the driver an upper hand. The 911 could enter corners faster, brake harder and generally handle better with the same tire size. Why did early 911s take aim at the Corvettes, even though they had very narrow tires? Because of the balance and poise of the rear-engined platform.
Porsche were so proud, that they continued using almost uniquely rear-engined cars ever since. Every subsequent iteration saw a power bump. The later cars became less hellish to drive, too, with further iterations increasing the tire width and the tire grip, until even big rear spoilers were being fitted to keep the car in contact with the ground, while also helping to keep the air cooled flat six engine fresh, supplied with cool air coming from the laminar airflow over the rear window. You know that famous Porsche shape? It was dictated by the necessity to have airflow staying laminar (attached, not turbulent) around the rear window to prevent overheating issues.
Then came the 1990s, when suddenly the 911 was in its final air-cooled iteration. By then, the rear-engined platform and shape had become quintessentially 911, like milk and cheese, or Queen and Purple Rain. The aerodynamic design was open for more crazy airflow trickery, including the first generation of the 911 GT3RS to go from a dual-purpose engine-cooling spoiler to a proper GT wing. After all, there was a radiator in the front bumper now. Which, by the way, if you own a Porsche, don't think that you're safe to hit your front bumper into something without damaging your engine anymore!
Downforce figures began to skyrocket with the new watercooled 911s. They rose and rose and rose, up until the governing bodies of motorsports told them to stop adding downforce to the back of the cars. By 2009, the rear wings on 911 GT3 RSR cars were getting to be massive, in some cases spilling over the sides of the cars, like a square muffin-top.
Then, without much warning, in 2016, IMSA decided to reduce the amount of downforce generated by the wings and diffusers, but only one the back ends of the cars. The front downforce figures could remain unchanged. The engineers saw years and years of work on balancing the aerodynamic balance to suit the rear-engined layout of the car disappear. Cars like the Ferrari 488 with its mid-engined platform suddenly had a large advantage once more against the Porsche. Something had to change.
How do you fix a 52 year old tactic that turned into a curse?
I have a confession to state out in the open: from here on out, the article is essentially an educated guess. I'm 99% sure that the information I am about to explain to you, dear reader, is somewhat accurate. But, I can't give you any details because it is untested and unproven. If you happen to have millions of dollars and want me to develop and test this theory in actual practice, I will gladly do that. But, for the purpose of simply explaining why this change would happen so suddenly and so dramatically, as to be - possibly - the first mid-engined 911 ever.
Let's recall from the earlier paragraph, that only rear downforce was reduced by IMSA. The drivers in the 2016 campaign complained and complained that the car was harder to drive and less stable than the competition, in their Corvettes, BMWs and Ferraris, which weren't rear-engined platforms. Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and the rest of the Porsche team were struggling to find a setup that helped to overcome the aerodynamic problems they encountered but there was no solution. The previous 911 RSR had been "grandfathered" into IMSA competition and its replacement was already being designed.
The concept of an aerodynamic deficiency was earth-shaking to the Porsche team. Porsche depended on its rear downforce figures as a lifeline. Front downforce wasn't even as important in comparison. You see, downforce is most effective on lighter cars. If you have a 1000 pound car, but 3000 pounds of downforce at 130 miles per hour, then that 1000 pound car, on the right tires, can actually hit around double the gravitational forces (aka g-forces) that act on a 2000 pound car with the same downforce figure. The math doesn't work out that nicely, but, the essential idea is the same.
For a full explanation on why this works this way, check out this video by my friend Kyle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abheF2qkenE&list=PL6R7zR4ZbGkOny_RGsc2V3DULdd2SPwSU&index=11
So, if reducing the weight improves the efficiency of the downforce your chassis creates, what does moving the weight of the chassis do to the aerodynamic balance? If you moved the engine of the 911 RSR forwards, you would have a greater aerodynamic balance towards the rear of the chassis of the car. That enables the designers to negate the problem of the reduction of the aerodynamic downforce of the 2017 911 RSR to comply with IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship regulations and homologation. And, according to the rulebook, Porsche were fully able to move their engine a few inches forward. This Porsche 911 RSR they unveiled for 2017 cleverly utilizes the rulebook to reposition their team back in the fight with an equal car compared to its rivals again.
When you apply science and engineering to a problem imposed upon you by the governing body of motorsports. This is what I love about motorsports now. The amount of engineering and so on that goes into these cars which is based in finding the most efficient, most simple way of changing something... It's amazing to see. This is what Melons' Better Driving loves to see.
Great job, Porsche engineers. That was clever. I raise my glass to you!
DriveTribe, the latest and seemingly best automotive social media site, is a creation that was heralded by the "Three Musketeers" of the former version of Top Gear, and current show "The Grand Tour" as the definitive place for car guys to go.
It's still under wraps, but I just wanted to make a post to drum up support and thank them for the raft of changes and updates that have been announced since I got early access. I'm not sure how much information I can leak, except that the platform is very promising in its current form.
What I am allowed to say, is that I have created my own Tribe, which I have called "Melons' CurbHoppers." On there, you can expect the best of the best of Melons' Better Driving content, but with an emphasis on the creation of discussion beyond just informational articles that I have posted on here. It's not going to be information, like the IMSA series updates I do regularly, but instead it's going to be experiences and ideas that you can discuss and share; think of it as Melons' Better Driving gone social network.
But the main thing I wanted to discuss here, is the huge overhauls that are happening behind the scenes at the request of the most active users in the Feedback and Help desk areas. Lots of bugs are being patched, lots of changes are being made and lots of feedback is being heard.
Unlike on various platforms I had frequented before, I feel like my voice at least matters in terms of input and feedback, which was a very welcome change when I was visiting the site the first time and realized that it wasn't quite what I had imagined. The site is fantastic because of the Content Creation tools, but I found that the bugs and problems and lack of customization of experience was going to impede the truly beneficial sides of the platform. My concerns were handled swiftly and appropriately, some even within a few hours of posting them.
Furthermore, the Feedback system itself was improved with an entire website system being brought online within a day. The speed of the programmers and developers in creating the new system which includes an FAQ section is amazing and very well appreciated.
Subaru Rally Team Canada heads through the Iron Bridge spectator stage at the Rally of the Tall Pines, 2014. Photo by myself, and posted onto DriveTribe. The full gallery of images that I got from this vantage point of the spectator stage is available on DriveTribe as soon as the public is granted access.
All told, then, I think you should be cautiously optimistic of what the site holds. Last night, after spending some time on the site, I was very pessimistic about the site's future, but numerous users and staff have genuinely reassured me... The future looks bright for DriveTribe.
How the public reacts, we have yet to see, but I promise that I will work as diligently as possible to bring it up to a top level standard for you, my dear reader, to enjoy Melons' Better Driving content into the future on this site as well as DriveTribe. Expect some genuinely heart-felt articles to come soon, some funny articles, and even some photo galleries and more.
Many cars have been heralded as the greatest car of all time. Even within the constraints of one segment of automotive endeavour, such as the sport compact segment, there is much discussion about which car is the best car. At the end of the day, it's all heresy; there is no best car, and there never will be.
You see, most journalists, car owners and car enthusiasts will all tell you about some feature, some design language, some statistic or some feeling. They base their informed judgement on the things that you notice; maybe a car like the Nissan GT-R has weird door handles that make it less easy to load your groceries into, but more "streamlined" (in a future article, I'll cover why streamlined isn't a great word for describing this...) at the track. That's the sort of thing that a journalist or an owner will tell you.
No car reviewer will ever really consider the idea that someone could ever modify their car, too. If a reviewer will complain about the lack of power from a BRZ, have they considered that the average BRZ owner will at least lightly modify their car? This is my old WRX, which I had gently modified to perform exactly how I wanted. Photo by droneplayer
But, beyond what my fellow journalists will tell you, there's a world beyond the physical statistics and design choices of a car. There are a few things to mention, beyond the usual things mentioned by the people who drive so many cars that they sometimes miss the soul/personality/purpose of a car.
I have a few examples of things that really should be mentioned more heavily in mainstream automotive journalism:
So, why then, do we insist that one car is the absolute best? I'm no saint, I have cars that I dislike, but in my years, I've never found a best car, ever. 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage is certainly the least expensive to own and operate I've ever encountered. A heavily modified 2004 Toyota MR-S with a turbocharged K24 in it, pushing 400 whp was certainly the coolest car I ever experienced. A 600 bhp Nissan GT-R was certainly the fastest car I ever drove. But, if I had to choose, out of any of the cars I've ever driven... You'll have to get back to me in a few years. I won't find the answer without climbing to the temple at the top of the mountain, for the answer lies within the person. A wise person would never claim that their car is the best car ever made; a wise person chooses a car that they like, or a car which gets the job done, or... The list is unending of reasons to appreciate what you've got.
Andrew Geier is an accomplished automotive enthusiast, with 15 years of automotive experience. At age 22, he created Melons' Better Driving in an effort to make people rethink the automotive world with insightful vision and articles about the future of the automotive culture and all of its subcultures, including motorsports. Seen in the site's background image, examining a road which was torn up by rally cars with his friends, his passion is clearly demonstrated by his excited pose.