It seems that Tanner Foust was born to go sideways. Having forged a reputation in Formula Drift and supplied the driving skills for one of those fast and spurious films, Foust decided to try his hand at rallying. Which makes him one of the few Americans who have even heard of possibly the most exciting form of motorsport ever, let alone attempted to compete in it.
Fans of the X Games know about rallying to some degree. The organizers have done well in making it more TV-friendly. It's not what European enthusiasts are accustomed to-to them, rallying stages take place in the open, through thick forests or over mountains covered in ice and snow, not in little stadiums in sunny Southern California-but it's still fun and offers plenty of jumps and slides. Before Foust took the X Games Rally Gold Medal in 2007, there were only two other American names of any note: Travis Pastrana and Ken Block. The year before, Pastrana beat a rally legend-the late, great Colin McRae. McRae rolled his car in spectacular fashion, as befits someone with the nickname McCrash. And there was still only a fraction of a second separating the two.
Foust finished Fourth in the '07 Rally America series and, at the time of writing, is deep in the Top 10 of the '08 season. In many ways, he has this '07 Subaru Impreza STI to thank, plus the tireless work of Darren Papworth, a 41-year-old Brit who is the rally team technical director and chief engineer of Syms Racing, Europe. As if we needed any further proof of our shrinking world, here's an American driver piloting a Japanese car, built in (of all places) Belgium by a Brit. Not the best of both worlds-the best of all.
Some background: Syms is a professional motorsport team with over 30 years experience building cars; 10 of those involving Imprezas. Papworth started as an apprentice mechanic 24 years ago, inspired to get into motorsport because of the thrill of it all and the influence of his father. When the Impreza entered his world-one of the staple machines in rallying, along with the mighty Mitsubishi Lancer EVO-it rocked it in a big way.
He has owned (or still owns) all manner of Imprezas-from race versions to street-legal STIs-including one each from the past three consecutive years. He knows his way around a Subaru just as much as anyone from Subaru. Which is just as well, because the build on this car started in November 2006, and ended just one month later, as the deadline for the '07 Rally America season was looming.
This was the machine's sole purpose: competition. No fancy stereo or pimped-out wheels. This is how a team with years of expertise takes a car and makes it into a winner.
There is no body kit, just some weight-saving measures in the form of a Seibon carbon-fiber hoodscoop and rear doors, with plexiglas replacing the rear glass. Wheels and tires obviously depend on what surface any given rally stage will take place on (snow, ice, mud, tarmac, gravel), but the baseline combination consists of 15x6 Italian EVO Corse alloys rolling on 215/70/15 Yokohama X977 rubber-tires supplied exclusively to rallying teams.
Behind them are tried-and-trusted AP Racing brakes with 11.6-inch front rotors and 11.2-inch rears, operated via trusty Goodridge stainless steel braided lines. They don't need to possess the stopping power of something like a time attack car; rallying is more about keeping the momentum, shifting the car's weight, being smooth and judicious with driver inputs. Being the '07 Formula Drift champion, Foust understands this perfectly.
He and his co-driver-the brave mensch, who reads out the course notes, telling him whether a left- or right-hander is coming up and how tight it is-usually Chrissie Beavis, sit in Recaro Pro Racer seats, fitted with HANS head and neck restraint systems-strapped in by Sparco harnesses and surrounded by not much other than some stock gauges. Because this is a race car, all extraneous weight has been jettisoned, but there is an 18-point rollcage, of course, custom-built by Syms. And rally cars have been known to roll. Quite often, a bunch of spectators will help get a car right side up again, so it can complete the stage.
TEIN Group N coilovers (genuine three-way damping force adjustable) make up the suspension, along with stock STI antiroll bars. The Group N name refers to the FIA class of rally car, where participating machines have to be similar to the street models on which they're based.
But, one of the changes allowed pertains to gearbox internals. A, more or less, free hand is given, provided the homologated ratios and gearbox pattern are respected. So teams can use dog engagement gearboxes that allow for quicker shifts.
The dog box here (operated by a factory STI shift lever) is a Syms custom special, holding five ratios. It couples up to stock STI axles and a limited-slip differential via a Syms/Ogura Racing twin-plate carbon clutch and an Ogura Racing flywheel. Syms has played with the electronic locking center differential to squeeze out all the advantage it has to offer, but the exact details have to remain within the realm of speculation.
That bit earlier about how to make a winner? There's a piece of the jigsaw missing. Papworth is tight-lipped about some of the work done, especially where the engine is concerned. Understandably so: There's no point spilling the beans to the other teams. All he's prepared to divulge is that the well-known and well-loved 2.0L EJ flat four has been bored out to 2.2 liters. The custom engine parts made by Syms are as follows: camshafts, connecting rods, pistons (aluminum), piston rings, crankshaft, valves, valve springs, retainers, cam gears, exhaust, and headers.
Syms took the throttle body, intake manifold and oil pan, and performed modifications on them. The head has also been ported and flowed by Papworth's team of engineers. A custom-made turbocharger, blow-off valve, and wastegate form the forced induction system, kept in check by an FIA-regulation 34mm restrictor, and cleaned with a K&N 57i air filter. The intercooler and pipes are a mix of Syms and Crawford, while the boost controller is made by Motec with some secret tweaking by Papworth and posse. Out went the stock radiator and oil cooler, replaced by Syms specials. It's a similar story with some of the hoses, and an HJS catalytic converter replaces the factory unit.
Papworth claims 315 hp at 4,000 rpm and a heaving 510 lb-ft of torque at just 3,500 rpm, great for pulling the car out of muddy bends. Along with colleague Masahiro Kobayashi, he tuned the Syms/Motec ECU. This brain coordinates Syms Race spark plugs and 650cc/min fuel injectors, plus a Bosch 305lph fuel pump. The ignition, plug wires, fuel regulator and fuel rail remain stock.
Rallying hands out plenty of punishment to drivers, co-drivers, and cars alike. That's why some of the mods aren't necessarily for greater speed so much as longevity. The body has received attention in the form of extra welding and strengthening. For the final flourish, it was painted in a base black with decals-of Rockstar energy drinks, the main sponsor-supplied and fitted by UC Graphics of Quail Valley, Calif. Papworth now puts the car's value at $185,000.
Hard to believe this was all done in the space of one month. The reality is that while the car was ready to race within that time, the demands of the season and little lessons learned-that's one of the great things about any form of racing, there's always something else to find out-have resulted in a subtle evolution; all the more to build on for the following season. So much so that Tanner's in an entirerly different chasis this year-one that's been slightly tweaked.
There's a truckload of rallying stuff on the web, including videos on YouTube. If this highly enjoyable sport hasn't blipped on your radar yet, give it a go. Be part of a new movement to make rallying popular in America. It'll give Foust a boost.
Behind The Build
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Leeds, United Kingdom
Syms Rally Team Technical Director
Rallying And Racing
One Month And Ongoing
"Working with friends and colleagues builds a better team."
'07 Subaru Impreza
Output 315 hp at 4,000 rpm, 510 lb-ft at 3,500 rpm
Engine EJ20 bored out to 2.2 liters; Syms valves, valve springs retainers, cam gears, aluminum pistons, piston rings, connecting rods, crankshaft, exhaust headers, turbocharger, blow-off valve, wastegate, spark plugs, 650cc/min fuel injectors, radiator; ECU tune; Bosch 305lph fuel pump; K&N 57i air filter; HJS catalytic converter
Drivetrain Syms shift kit, Syms/Ogura Racing twin-plate carbon clutch; Ogura flywheel
Suspension Tein Group N coilovers
Wheels/Tires 15x6 EVO Corse wheels; 215/70/15 Yokohama X977 tires
Brakes AP Racing (11.5-inch front/11.20-inch rear); Goodridge stainless steel braided lines
Exterior Graphics supplied by UC Graphics
Interior Syms 18-point rollcage; Recaro Pro Racer seats; Sparco harnesses
Gratitude Scott, Oppie, Gerf, Jess, Jay, UC Graphics, PlaCar (USA), Haggis (Scotland), Koba (Japan), Daz (UK) Pascal, Domi, Maarten, Freek (Belgium), and Grzyp (Poland)