Too Much Skill – Subaru STi Performance

by Zach Billings on May 17, 2011

2005 Subaru STi

My 2005 Subaru STi at a local car show alongside a GTR.

I have a great understanding of vehicle dynamics and car control for my age and experience level. For a number of years now I have been reading about car control techniques. I knew, in theory, how to double clutch rev match before I even learned to drive stick. Owning my WRX, I was able to put many of my car control techniques into practice. I was able to test the car at its limits and learn how to push them as far as possible. When I bought my Subaru STi, I knew it would be powerful and I knew how hard they could turn. Nothing prepared me for the reality of a car with more skill than me.

My buddy Steve, who helps me work on my car, had recommended I install rear differential support bushings. He found out I needed them after he first launched my car and got a loud clunking noise from the rear diff during shifting. One warm weekend during the summer, I went to his house with my friend Andrew so we could install the new bushings. Installation took a few hours and went off without a hitch. When installation was complete, Steve said, “Time to try them out.”

I jumped in the passenger seat, Steve in the driver seat, and Andrew and one of Steve’s friends got in the back. Now, I should explain that STis are fairly light-weight cars. They rely on the lightness to be able to turn and accelerate the way they do and when you add 700lbs to the car, things tend to change a hell of a lot. STis are affected so significantly by added weight that I can actually feel a noticeable drop in acceleration with a single passenger in the car.

Unphased, Steve drove us to an empty stretch of narrow tarmac for our little ‘test run.’ (I should specify that this stretch of tarmac was unpopulated by people or cars). The experience that ensued was the most intense and exhilarating of my life without question.

First, we started from a roll and Steve mashed his foot to the floor. Before I knew it, we were talking turns at 60, 70, and 80mph. My feet were jammed against the firewall. I had my left hand gripping the seat for all I was worth, and my right hand was gripping the ‘oh shit’ handle for even more. Steve was piloting the STi with a fury that I didn’t know was possible with just a driver and the spare tire removed. To drive and turn at the rate we were going seemed to defy physics with the amount of weight we had on board. Prior to the experience, I would have told you that not even a dedicated race car could travel down a stretch of road so fast. We rounded a corner with tires lightly squealing from the strain and came onto the longest straight. Steve pegged the throttle. The sound of air rushing through the intake and turbo filled the car, as it does at high boost levels. 60mph, 70mph. 80. 90…100…110….. From the passenger seat I could no longer see the speedometer needle, but we were in 5th gear, approaching redline. I knew that meant we were above 110mph and Steve still had the throttle jammed to the floor. At this point I noticed we were approaching a high, blind rise in the road at an incredible rate. Steve broke at the last second, slowing us to 80mph. The front wheels left the ground as we launched over the crest. Time seemed to momentarily slow as we cleared the hill. We could only see the black woods in front of us and the road still hadn’t come into view. Suddenly the front wheels touched down and for an instant I was positive we were all dead. In front of the car, going 80mph, was a 90 degree, very abrupt turn, with a stone wall at the edge of the road. The beginning of the turn was a mere 100ft away and it’s not like Steve was threshold-braking to slow us in time. Suddenly he broke hard, down shifted, then nailed the throttle. With a full car at 60+mph and no room for error, Steve slid the car sideways around the impossible turn. Once I regained my grasp on reality, all I could think was, “I can’t drive like that.”

What I found out that night was that at that point in time, my car could turn, brake, and accelerate at a level beyond my skill and reaction time. I spent the following months working on pushing the limits farther, however I’m well aware than any time I thought I’d reached the limits, the car really had so much more to offer. Sadly, I have probably lost all the progress I had made towards learning to drive my car at the limit, as it has now been off the road with its dead engine for over 5 months, with no end in sight. I might just have to relearn how to pilot a car with too much skill when I get a 2012 Subaru STi in a year or so. Hopefully the 2012 Subaru STi Performance will be even more insane than mine.

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