Buttoned-up engineering, unbuttoned.
BRZ Limited shown
in drivers ed, we never squealed tires. At least not on purpose. But with
western Pennsylvanias BeaveRun Motorsports Complex serving as a temporary
campus for the Subaru Academys traveling sales consultant education efforts,
not only do students make the tires howl, but the teachers make them howl the loudest.
For two days this past summer, 123 bona fide Subaru sales consultants and an ersatz one me are learning the finer points of the WRX STi, Subarus new rally-inspired ultra-performance sedan. And not from a textbook. We strapped on helmets and, with British racing school instructors aboard, put the hammer down and went slithering around BeaveRuns race track.
For the past 10 years or so, Subaru has become a master at making and selling crossover cars and trucks in America, including the Outback, Outback Sport and Forester. Think rocks and trees, fly rods and mountain bikes.
However, the rest of the world has seen a more pistons and asphalt side of Subaru as the carmaker participated in a form of motorsport called performance rallying. (Heres more about rallying.)
Tipped off by special-interest magazines and fueled by the Internet, car enthusiasts have followed the racing successes of the Subaru World Rally Team as well as the overseas offerings of streetable high-performance Subaru vehicles. Tom Caracciolo (Director, Product Planning and Product Development for Subaru of America) and a number of Subaru sales consultants note that this is one of those rare times when the customer often knows more about a Subaru vehicle than Subaru sales consultants.
Therefore, the intense training on WRX STi. Subaru provides training sessions, called ride and drives, for all products, as do most manufacturers, to educate sales personnel about the cars theyre selling.
For the WRX STi, its more important than ever. As Caracciolo points out, The sales consultant not only has to be an expert on the product, but also has to let the buyer know just how much performance the car has. Subaru cant have buyers uninformed of the responsibility they have with this very potent automobile.
Subaru has plans to import 3,200 WRX STi models per year, and fanatical WRX STi buyers want undriven cars. So with a limited number of vehicles available for sales consultants to drive, Subaru is making a big investment to train about 3,600 dealership sales consultants about the WRX STi.
The agenda begins at an area hotel. Participants learn that the driving exercises are carefully designed for a controlled environment and for education about the car, not to develop instant racecar drivers: No Mario Andrettis going back to the dealerships, were told. In other words, dont try this at home, kids.
The blue group heads first to BeaveRuns kart track, a sinuous mile-long loop of asphalt. With an instructor in the passenger seat, we drive in third gear, feeling the sticky performance tires bite into the track surface, and learn something about following the racing line. The sales consultants wont become experts at racing technique, but they do learn that when an enthusiast uses the phrase it has nothing to do with the ponies. But darn, we get only three laps. Were left wanting more.
The next stop is a large asphalt lake marked with lime and pylons. Students again take the wheel to learn the six-speed manual transmission, common to Porsches and Ferraris but a novel feature for Subaru. Only a light touch is needed for the center loaded shifter. The rev alarm, warning when the tachometers redline is fast approaching, is also explained here.
Another demonstration shows how the Driver Controlled Center Differential, if switched to full 50/50 lock, causes torque binding and a lot of drivetrain noise when turning. And yes, they really do all do that. And no, you shouldnt do that on dry pavement.
The blue flag leads next to BeaveRuns race course, where we apply our shifting skills all the way to sixth gear, and then experience the massive deceleration from the WRX STis giant Brembo racing brakes.
We also learn about the use of water spray over the outside of the intercooler, a racing trick to reduce intake air temperature after it has been compressed and heated by the turbocharger. A button on the dash gives a two-second spritz. It can make a five-mile-per-hour increase on the straightaway of a race track. That may seem trivial, but in competition, small differences add up.
The next morning, the blue group begins at the asphalt lake again, this time for a demonstration of the Baja Turbo, the crossover pickup with a 210-horsepower engine. Thats followed by a drive of the Forester 2.5 XT, a similarly powered crossover SUV. The added zip is impressive.
The blue crew returns to the race track for a ride in the passenger seat while our instructors, genuine race drivers all, show us what a professional driver can do on a closed course. Chief instructor Andrew Davies says, They call this a demonstration run, but we [instructors] call it payback. So much for our frightening the pros while we drove.
Students helmets on and securely strapped in get what is for many the ride of their lives. Each WRX STi roars away from the pits and, out of sight on the road course, its tires moan while cornering on the edge of adhesion. Jaws drop as the Subaru sports sedans fly by behind us on BeaveRuns main straight.
Ah, but were not done yet. We get one final stop at the track, where students can once again put fear into their instructors. Payback for payback. Students have noticeably improved, with more confidence, better technique and undoubtedly more knowledge about Subaru and the WRX STi. And certainly no absence of enthusiasm.
Of course, its all about learning and serving the customer. And its well worth it, opines Billy Van Auken, business manager at Royal Motor Company, Cortland, NY. But he adds with a smile, Man, I love driving that car. Drivers training, indeed!
John Matras has photographed for and written new car reviews, old car profiles and automotive history for both enthusiast and general-interest publications for almost 25 years.
See an excerpt from the exciting WRX STi training video and find out more about Subaru and professional rallying.