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 Play Day: Six Hours at DirtFish Rally School
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DirtFish Motor Pool


DirtFish uses only one type of vehicle for its courses – 2009 Subaru WRX STI in both 4- and 5-door models. The DirtFish technicians have converted 10 stock WRX STI vehicles into what only can be described as rally behemoths. In addition to the standard WRX STI attributes – turbocharged 305-hp Subaru BOXER engines, Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, and 6-speed manual transmission – they outfitted the 10 vehicles with beefed-up rally suspensions, improved high-flow exhausts, 15" rally wheels, WRC-spec gravel racing tires, roll cages, racing bucket seats, and five-point harnesses.


By displaying their passion for rally, Ted and the other DirtFish instructors were able to instill confidence in all of us, especially those with little or no prior performance-driving experience. Several members of the group have previously driven Subaru vehicles, but the day at DirtFish showed them the performance side of Subaru, and how the WRX STI is a rally beast.  


All in all, I’m calling this an incredible day.








DirtFish Rally School


DirtFish Rally School has been teaching mixed-surface driving techniques in bucolic Snoqualmie, Washington, since 2009. Located on the site of a 100-year-old former Weyerhaeuser® lumber mill about an hour east of Seattle, the school offers several types of courses, ranging in intensity from simple car control to all-out stage rally driving. 

  • The two-hour introduction to rally class gives students the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a purpose-built rally car. 
  • The three-day advanced rally technique course covers advanced rally driving, culminating in a simulation of a rally stage and accreditation toward an unrestricted Rally America license.


All of the DirtFish instructors are passionate about and committed to motorsports. Their experiences range from World Rally Championship (WRC) event competition to formula car racing and almost everything in between. 


The DirtFish technicians will modify a customer’s vehicle for rallying. On the day we visited in May, an owner had just dropped off his brand-new 2013 WRX STI for the shop to prepare. 






Although I’ve driven turbocharged Subaru vehicles under a variety of conditions, I had driven the WRX STI only around the suburbs. The day at DirtFish was my first opportunity to really open it up – and the experience truly was worth the wait. 


The 305 hp SUBARU BOXER engine produces 290 lb-ft of torque, which is difficult to experience on neighborhood streets. This car just flies off the line and keeps going. The distance from “mash” to “lift” was only about 100 yards, tops, but by the time it came for “lift,” I was going about 40 – the instructors were going closer to 60.



Chassis Mods to Help Handle the Power at DirtFish


According to Derik Nelson at DirtFish, “The suspension components on a rally car take a beating and must be strengthened to perform and survive. Some rally teams do this at great cost, because it can be the difference between finishing 1st, 2nd, or not at all. So we use many of the same methods with less exotic materials to make it possible for people to get a similar experience at a more affordable cost.


“The shocks we use are actually built in-house here at DirtFish and use an insert-style damper that we get from the Netherlands, where many of the top suspension companies in the world are located. They have more travel than stock to absorb the uneven terrain and bumps while keeping the car stable.”




About the author: Drive Performance publisher Tom Salvino ventured far from his Subaru office in New Jersey to sample the rally life. Not a stranger to travel, though, Salvino piles his family into its Outback for a 
road trip almost every weekend.





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