NASA Rally Sport West Director Kristopher Marciniak has spent the better part of two decades desperately searching for grip.
A native of New England, Marciniak began autocrossing in 1998, then took up rallycross and ice racing. In addition to founding the New England Subaru Impreza Club, Marciniak took second in the 2001 Boston BMWCCA Ice Race Championship in 2001 and then took first place in 2004.
He and his wife Christine attended the California Rally Series school in 2005, and have since been campaigning their 1996 Dodge Rally Neon. Kristopher now teaches car prep in the school, and Christine teaches a co-driver section of the school.
Admit it: every time you see video of a well-driven rally car, you think about trying it. We do, too. Just look at Marciniak, who tried it and got bitten by the bug so bad he’s now Director for NASA Rally Sport’s Western Region, a position he’s held since spring 2014. We caught up with Marciniak to find out the state of NASA Rally Sport and to see what they’re planning for in 2021.
Q: From what I can tell from the NASA Rally Sport results page, it looks like four events were cancelled last year. How did 2020 work out for NASA Rally Sport?
A: Not too bad. We had some early events cancel like everyone else, but once we got our hands around what the regulations were going to be like, a few changes to some procedures, and a switch to a completely digital time card meant that the volunteer interaction was kept to a minimum. We had several successful events relying on a frequent rally motto: “Press on regardless.”
Q: Looking ahead to 2021, it appears there are four new rally venues on the national calendar in addition to the usual events we’re familiar with?
A: Some new rally sprints will be back in 2021, and we’re on the lookout for more. Our first goal is to make local events successful, and we hope to have the NASA National Rally Championship spun back up soon.
Q: Your job doesn’t look easy. What is the hardest thing about putting on a rally event?
A: A lot of people think it’s finding roads, but there are good rally roads in lots of places. I’d say getting everyone on the same page. That’s all the regional and local government entities: fire, police, sheriff, traffic, permits, etc. So everyone knows what’s going on — and why there are brightly colored cars driving through town.
Q: You run the car prep course for the California Rally Series School. How did you get involved with that?
A: We took the school in 2005, and after successfully building and racing two rally cars to a championship, I felt I had the experience to share.
Q: How hard is it for licensed road racing driver to switch over to rally driving, even if it’s just for one event?
A: Car control skills definitely carry over, and a snap oversteer transition is “somewhat” less violent on dirt than slicks on pavement. The keys you’re missing is reading the road ahead — picturing it in your mind as the co-driver reads it — and making decisions on driving line with cues from the terrain. Two examples:
I try not to go 100 percent straight over a blind crest. If the car is in a slight transition from side to side, there is momentum stored in the springs. Changing direction by using that stored momentum is a lot faster than trying to all of a sudden get traction to change direction.
If you’re driving over that same blind crest and you see trees straight up ahead, then you know you will be turning soon.
Q: Those notes the co-driver has to read from the routebook, what do they say? Is it difficult to learn them?
A: It takes some practice, and I highly suggest not driving to notes until maybe the third or fourth rally. The co-driver might call out a, “100 !! Right 4- > 3 OC” or “100 (distance in yards / meters) !! DOUBLE CAUTION (be super careful here) 4 Medium right turn (45 degrees) MINUS (so more like 60 degrees) that > TIGHTENS to a 3 (90 degree turn) and is OFF CAMBER” The key is forming a picture of that in your mind as you approach it at 80 mph on dirt.
Q: Don’t co-drivers get carsick?
A: They sure do! It’s a small club of people that can read a book while being tossed around a rally car at speed.
Q: What is the “Scandinavian flick,” and, briefly, how do you do it?
A: For a left-hand sharp turn that opens up, start by turning right — opposite to the corner — to load up the springs and just before the apex and get the pendulum swinging — lift off the throttle — turn left and accelerate. You took all the weight on the back left of the car and flung it over to the right front of the car. Add countersteer when appropriate.