Picking up where I left off last month, I was hunting for a snow- or ice-racing event in which to race the Blasphemous M Coupe (BimmerLife February 6). The M coupe came to me after tangling with a barbwire fence, and bore the scars of that encounter. Even though I wasn’t behind the wheel when the excursion happened, I fraudulently took credit for it: “But you should have seen the fence!”
The car was really just passing through my hands, but I was allowed to built it into a snow-and-ice-racer before it went to its forever home to be restored back to a dignified BMW.
A mild winter had resulted in the lake ice being too thin on our normal ice racing venue. Fortunately, we did have one last shot at an SCCA-sanctioned RallyX (think autocross on dirt or snow) at the Road And Rally Experience, hosted by Glenwood Springs Subaru. The half-mile course was on a field at the Tree Farm in Carbondale, Colorado. The weeks leading up to the RallyX were devoid of snow, but there was snow-making equipment on hand to lay a solid base of white stuff.
I loaded four fresh Nokian Hakkapeliitta studded tires mounted on black Motorsport DSI wheels onto the M coupe’s roof rack. I dared not drive on them, as I wanted virgin rubber to mitigate the M coupe’s inherent disadvantages against a field stacked with RallyX-prepped cars and dozens of Subarus. Going down the road, the M Coupe was a sight to behold, thanks to its exposed “street-fighter” metal bumper carriers, stainless-steel skid plate, rack-mounted driving lights, and a four-foot CB antenna. Mind-blown expressions from onlookers were plentiful as we made our way through Colorado ski country. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t relish the attention!
Winter delivered on cue with silver dollar-sized snowflakes as we pulled into the RallyX parking lot. The course was a dog-bone-shaped loop of man-made snow, but nature was quickly filling in the gaps. By the time the drivers’ meeting had concluded, the course—and everything else—had been transformed into a winter wonderland. It was going to be a good day; we had finally found the snow!
Sizing up our competition, I saw a handful of familiar RallyX faces, but the majority appeared to be novices in street cars. I’m certainly no professional, but I did co-drive a friend’s Subaru 2.5RS into a third-place podium spot several seasons back—and by podium, I mean clutching torn paper printout that nobody cared about in a dusty field. RallyX is delightfully gritty and grassroots compared to the polished world of road-racing. That said, Glenwood Springs Subaru did have a very nice display trailer, and Dave Higgen’s #75 WRX factory rally car was on hand.I was more concerned about a late-’80s EF-generation 1.5-liter Honda Civic DX hatchback co-driven by two very talented RallyXers. The Civic was purchased for $400, thanks to being recently crashed, although gently. The radiator support was beaten back into place and a mismatched hood was added, along with some narrow studded snow tires. The boxy little Civic may have lacked in power—not necessarily a bad thing in the snow—but it also lacked in weight, which would be a rude awakening for the rest of us.
A Fiat 500 Abarth, a Volkswagen GTI, a pair of Miatas, a Lotus Evora, and a pair of Subaru BRZs rounded out the front-drive and rear-wheel-drive cars. The M coupe is communicative and balanced, but its comparatively portly 3,000 pounds would do it no favors—nor would its tendency for 911-esque snap oversteer.Two-wheel-drive cars ran in the morning, followed by all-wheel-drive cars in the afternoon. Some RallyX rules applied: a two-second penalty for a cone, and ten seconds for a missed gate. What differed was that instead of your combined best time, only the fastest lap of the day was counted—and there would be a parade lap with a rolling start to prevent the starting box from becoming a giant hole.
I knew the fastest times would be set earlier in the day, before the course deteriorated. Rather than take a chance of throwing away an early fast lap hunting for the absolute best time, I opted to be clean and tidy. The parade lap offered ample opportunity for hooliganism, and also the chance to hang it out before and after the start/finish gate—which may have resulted in a spin just after the finish on my third lap, but only after the clock had already stopped.In any case, the first lap was my fastest. The M coupe was surprisingly composed, and carved up apexes no differently on the snow than it does on dry land. The trick was to fight its tendency to over-rotate with just enough slip angle to be clean through the gates. Driving the backside of the cone was key, and sometimes hunting for small spots of grip was beneficial—even if they were off-line.
Judicious use of the throttle was necessary to put the power down without excessive wheelspin, but the area where I left the most time on the table was braking. The M coupe’s large contact patches were an overall liability, except for braking; I would over-brake at the end of the back straight, fully expecting to wash the front end at the entry of the chicane, but there was an amazing amount of grip there. I was sacrificing speed there to set up for the exit of the next complex of turns, but no matter what line I took, there was no grip. I should have just blown into the chicane like a freight train, carrying more speed for longer, then accepted whatever line resulted. I reckon that technique might have been good for a second or more, but it took a lap or two to discover that, and by then the track conditions were slower.The car that had no trouble through the slick back side of the course was that Honda Civic. Both of its drivers would come barreling down the straight with little wheelspin, thanks to the Civic’s alleged 60 horses when new; then they’d left-foot brake to set the front end, while maintaining throttle to claw through the slick spots. Compared to the half-dozen people who would later spin there, the little Honda was bereft of drama—and that means fast. It was the only car to break a 50-second lap time.
My co-driver, Zach, and I volunteered to work the Turn One complex for the afternoon all-wheel-drive class, which had a substantially larger field, the majority of which were Subarus. After an hour of standing in the cold, I was thoroughly disgusted at my lack of preparation; a goose-down jacket and gloves barely took the edge off. As my fingers and toes went through stages of pain and numbness, I had visions of the bins overflowing with cold-weather gear sitting uselessly in my garage one hundred miles away. One piece of equipment that I might have killed for was a portable propane heater, also sitting uselessly in my garage. That said, the misery was well worth the reward of getting out in the snow, and a little suffering is always good for one’s soul.
Our suffering was also eased by the entertainment of watching everyone come through in various stages of control. Granted, the course had deteriorated significantly since the morning runs, but it was clear that most afternoon drivers were less serious than the morning crew. The whole point was fun, and the beauty of RallyX is that even those who take it too seriously dont take it too seriously—except for that guy who made it a point to tell everyone in the pits that he was a champion, a regional champion. Dude, really?In Turn One, the normal turn-in point had become a minefield of potholes and ice, making the fastest line a wide, late-apex entry—if not, a trip into the weeds was guaranteed with comic regularity. From there a mild power-on drift through the corner to an as-straight-as-possible exit was the cleanest transition to the back straight, all while minding another pothole large enough to go ice-fishing in. An all-wheel-drive Hyundai Genesis had the most egregious off-track excursions, which may have sent someone cowering behind a parked front-end loader when I saw them coming. Maybe. Or so I heard.
Of the trucks in attendance—none of which were fazed by the potholes—a maroon first-generation supercharged Toyota Tacoma was my favorite.There were a few very-well-driven prepped Subarus among a pack filled with mostly WRXs. The conditions didn’t favor the heavier three-lettered Subarus, but one equipped with equal-length headers sounded the part as it came wailing past, four wheels ablaze at full throttle. Every WRX should have come this way—God, it sounded good!
I’m no fan of crossovers, but a white Crosstrek kitted out with off-road gear looked fantastic and was respectfully fast. However, the fastest Subaru honors went to a purple 2.5RS and a caged yellow Forester wagon. The long wheelbase of the Forester allowed beautiful drifts through Turn One, but the champ behind the wheel of the 2.5RS was faster, despite overdriving my section of the course.
The 2.5RS is the BMW E30 of the Subaru world, striking the perfect balance of control, torque, and weight; it is better than the WRX for its lack of weight, yet somehow not worse for its comparative lack of power. It should have won the AWD class, but it didn’t;that honor went an actual BMW E30, a 1989 325iX piloted by man named Marc. Never underestimate a well driven iX—even in a field filled with Subarus.When the times were tallied, the Honda Civic took first and second overall and in front-wheel-drive with 49.33 and 50.15 lap times, respectively; the Fiat 500 rounded out front-wheel-drive in third with a 54.2 lap. Rear-wheel-drive was won by a Miata with a 54.64, followed by me in the M coupe with a 56.48 and Zach with a 57.49.
The E30 325iX took first in all-wheel-drive with a 54.04, followed by the 2.5RS, a half-second down with a 54.52; the Forester rounded out the top three with a 56.09.
If you merge all of the times, the M coupe finished eighth out of a 54 timed entries—not bad for a parts-bin BMW that was never meant to leave the pavement!
Despite a few first-time organizational hurdles, the folks at Glenwood Springs Subaru, the Tree Farm, and SCCA RallyX put on a fantastic event. Smiles were unanimous, and couldn’t have happened without the untold hours of hard work behind the scenes. The M coupe has already left my hands for its new home, but I’ll find some other car to bastardize for next year’s event.—Alex McCulloch