At the age of 17, Stephan Verdier began his motorsports career go-kart racing in his birth country of France, where he successfully finished Eighth in the nation. After moving to the U.S. in 1993, Verdier entered a Bridgestone driver search that staged him against 1,200 competing applicants, which he won outright and was awarded a contract to campaign a full season in the Canadian Formula F2000 series. His love of road racing spurred an interest in rally, and by 1992 he was piloting an '02 Subaru WRX in the PGT class of the SCCA Western State Rally Championships, leading his team to becoming the first to ever claim an overall event win, on their way to taking home the championship. Verdier's passion morphed once again in 2006, when he entered Formula Drift ranks, competing in both sanctioned rally and drifting competitions from behind the wheels of different cars. But in the summer of 2010 another challenge arose: compete in rally and drift, only this time, from behind the wheel of the same car.
In 2010, after making a Top 16 appearance in Round 3 at Formula D, New Jersey, Verdier received a surprise call by X Games promoters with an offer to compete in the Super Rally of X Games 16. "I was really excited to hear the news," states Verdier, "but only had one car at my disposal at the time-meaning I only had two weeks to transform my '06 Subaru STI from drift- to rally-spec."
GTI Chassis Work
Almost the moment the Subie came back from competing in Round 4 of Formula D in Seattle, Verdier was behind the wheel of his pickup, trailoring it to Gialamas Technical Innovations (GTI) in San Clemente, CA. GTI has been a full-time supporter of Verdier in the Formula D series (building Dai's time-attack 350Z that split the Feb '10 cover of 2NR with our very own 370Z), and was called upon to prepare the chassis for X Games. "Protecting the car from abuse was our first priority," stated Gialamas, "to allow Stephan to lean on his competitors if need be without damaging the body. We modified the front and rear bumpers and designed a skidplate to protect the engine, transmission, fuel cell, and differential.
GTI also changed the original big-brake setup used for drifting to a smaller set that would fit the 15-inch Enkei gravel wheels (sponsored by Subaru of Ontario) and rally-spec Cooper tires needed for rally. Another concern was the aluminum radiator plumbing GTI had built for Stephan in 2009, when the radiator was moved into the trunk to improve cooling and weight balance for drifting. The setup was susceptible to both gravel and hard landings, so GTI ended up switching to more pliable braided stainless lines and -20 AN fittings.
Tein Rally-Spec Suspension
A critical aspect in modifying the STI from drift to rally was the suspension. Verdier competes on a set of Stance drift-spec coilovers for drifting, but called upon Tein USA to supply him with a set of Group-N WRC-spec coilovers for X Games Rally. The Gr.N coilovers feature three-way damping force adjustment, temperature-compensating and micro-speed valving, and a 16-level adjustable Hydraulic Bump Stopper (HBS) system-with 4.0kg/mm front and 3.0kg/mm rear springs-to deal with the rigors of drifting, and to provide more forward bite while still being able to land the big jumps smoothly. A normal coilover would have to be sprung stiffer and possess a higher ride height to do all this, which would seriously hurt performance. "One of the benefits of working with Tein is that they have a wealth of knowledge and setup information from their extensive involvement in rally," claimed Verdier.
Crawford Performance Engine/Transmission
Being successful in any motorsport means making sure your engine performs at its maximum potential within a zero failure rate. Since 2006, Crawford Performance of Oceanside, CA, has supported Verdier with engines and transmissions throughout his Formula D campaign. In preparation for X Games, the STI's engine internals remained the same Crawford S3L package (a 2.5L block with custom Forged rods and pistons) used for drift competition, with stock heads and ARP head studs.
In contrast, Crawford changed nearly every driveline component imagineable, including the stock STI tranny with the welded-center differential and two-wheel-drive setup used for drifting. In went one of their four-wheel-drive KAPS sequential dog boxes, which retail for a cool $30K. "We were supposed to drop in a 2.7L engine but ran out of time and decided to keep my 2.5L drift engine," says Verdier. "I was a little worried since that engine had run four previous FD events, but Quirt Crawford assured me it would be fine."
The turbo system was changed from the Garrett GT30 drift setup to a Garrett twin-scroll snail for improved boost and throttle response, even with the mandated 45mm restrictor. When the engine and transmission were complete, William Knose of I-Speed USA went to work tuning the new package and factory ECU with Ecutek software.
I-Speed USA ECU Tuning
"We tuned the car a couple weeks prior to the event so that Stephan could do some testing to make sure any odd kinks were worked out," says William. "Since we had time, we installed the new beta features offered by Ecutek's RaceROM reflash for the OEM ECU, including launch control and boost per gear." This was definitely not a conservative tune-much more aggressive than the drift tune Stephan and company were accustomed to. "For Formula Drift, the engine should survive an entire season on one tune, with no tuner access," states Verdier, "But for X Games competition, William was able to continually monitor the vehicle to make sure it was running the way we had planned." The end result: 600 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque, with that awesome 45mm restrictor.
Verdier was able to squeeze in testing just four days before the X Games on a dry lake bed. "The funny thing was, the first time I drove the car on dirt, I forgot that it wasn't dustproof," he says. "So after 10 minutes of driving, there was more dirt inside the car than outside! It took me two days to clean the interior with a power washer."
X Games 16 as told by Stephan Verdier
After just two weeks to completely change the setup of a competition vehicle, and only four days to shake it down and troubleshoot problems, would X Games domination come as easily as everyone had hoped? By now you know the results, but let's have Stephan tell the story:
Driving to the Los Angeles Coliseum on Thursday, I immediately noticed the factory-backed teams of Travis Pastrana, Brian Deegan, Ken Block, and Dave Mirra, with their support trucks full of spare parts, five or more mechanics per car, and even spare cars. Since I was the little privateer, I came to wage war with only the Crawford trailer and three friends-T.J. Hainrihar, Todd Morbely, and Ramana Lagemann-as my assistants. We set up our humble pit with the factory guys looking at us, thinking, 'Who are these jokers?'
My first Qualifying run was made on dry dirt. The track was watered down for dust before my second run, and I knew it was going to be slippery, but it was way more so than expected. I began braking into the first turn, and there was no way to slow down enough to make the corner. I made immediate contact towards the back of the car as it went into the K-rail, but luckily I didn't lose my drift. But it was bad enough that the car needed to go to the frame shop that night to get straightened out.
Saturday was crazy-tons of people and TV crews scattered everywhere. It was complete chaos! I had a great Qualifying round (qualifying Second overall), and the car felt the best it had all weekend. But right after taking the checkered flag I wasn't able to stop in time and crashed hard into a cement wall, causing the engine to instantly shut off. The right front framerail had been pushed into the engine and broke the front timing pulley and locked up everything. We had five hours to fix it, but we didn't have a spare engine. With some clever use of a chain, a truck, and crossed fingers, we were able to pull the framerail back into place, and as luck would have it, after the pulleys were repaired and the timing belt was reinstalled, the engine fired right up. We were completely relieved but needed to focus on the remaining damage: a cracked left rear hub for which we had no spare, and a damaged right front A-arm, front bumper, intercooler piping, intake, and numerous other small parts.
Sunday's Semifinal session was my best run the entire weekend. We had to complete four laps and take only one jump during the race. I got a great start, flew through my laps, and jumped the 70-foot ramp, all while staying in front of Mirra. I won my first heat, which placed me in the Finals.
This was it . . . the big one! Due to qualifying Second and Pastrana's car not running, I was now the number-one seed and the only Subaru left standing. It was pretty cool, even though a miscommunication between myself and the referee led me to miss my last launch, landing me in last place (Fourth) for the Finals-definitely not the way you want to start a race, but I've come back from worse.
Through the first corner, I was able to power by and out-brake Sam Hubinette like he was standing still. Then, into the corner under the bridge, Tanner and Deegan went wide, allowing me to cut back on the inside of Deegan. This was the perfect opportunity to cut back on the inside and steal the corner from him and then drag race down the back of the stadium, passing him before the hill and arch. I was closing in on Tanner for the next three laps, but then started to lose power. I thought Deegan had pushed me in the straight and bent my exhaust, but boost was low-one of my intercooler pipes that was damaged during my crash had cracked and started leaking. I took the big jump right behind Tanner, and at that point it just let go and lost almost all power. Deegan was able to pass me between the arch. Samuel tried to pass me on the outside, but I blocked him every chance I got. I was dead in the water, but as a competitor, my job was to finish as well as I could, and that meant making life hard for my good friend Sam . . . even though he eventually did pass me.
I was disappointed that such a small problem ruined my run at Gold, but those were the best three days ever! I hope to be invited again next year. As much as I wanted to ponder what could have been, there was no time-Gialamas and I had two weeks to remove the skidplates and bumpers, reinstall the APR rear wing, swap back to the drift suspension, and convert to RWD once again for Round 5 of FD in Las Vegas. Hopefully next year we'll have a little more time! I would like to thanks my sponsors: Clutch Masters, Enkei, Ignite Racing Fuel, Subaru of Ontario, Sparco, APT, Von Zipper, Motul, K&N Filters, and Seibon.