Chris Greenhouse, a recent graduate of the Team ONeil Rally School, was no stranger to the victory podium even before the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally. But on June 3rd and 4th, he teamed up with fellow school graduate Billy Elliott Mann and took a come-from-behind victory in the fiercely contested Two Wheel Drive National class at the fifth round of the RallyAmerica National Championship series. Against substantially higher-powered cars and team budgets, the team pressed on through a punctured tire, electrical problems, and pouring rain to take the victory and proved that perseverance and consistency are some of the most valuable commodities in rally racing.
Chris has been racing in rally since 2005, but only attended Team ONeil in April of 2011. “I had been doing fairly well,” stated Chris in a recent interview, “But I thought that some driver training would do me some good, and unlike so many others, I decided to try to improve my technique instead of my dyno sheet. I think too many drivers think that they need more horsepower and torque to go faster. What’s in your head makes you fast.”
Chris enrolled in the 5-day course, and even brought his 1995 Plymouth Neon all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio to do some testing and setup work. He spent the week working with the instructors in a variety of cars, including his Neon, but also drove some of our rear-wheel-drive, all-wheel drive, and front-wheel drive cars, including our Ford Fiestas.
“I really liked the Fiesta, especially as a car to conduct driver training in. I spent a lot of time in the car during the week. The car has great handling, its very light, and it has great potential as a rally car. Dillon (Van Way) and Chris (Duplessis) have both shown that the Fiesta can do some fantastic things on rally stages, and they are both only going to get better as time goes on and car development continues. Keep an eye on both of them this year and into 2012″
Chris is a commercial airline pilot by trade, and his experience flying planes has had a lot to do with some of the choices that he has made in the racing world.
“I come from an aviation background, and you don’t start flying fighter jets or commercial airliners on your first day of class. You’ll learn how to fly in small, single-engine, propeller-driven aircraft that are not as complex as larger and faster airplanes. You aren’t going to learn anything by getting into a jet the first day and trying to fly it around, its simply too much. Build a foundation of knowledge in simpler airplanes, and do the same in a race car.”
When asked about his advice for new drivers, Chris gave an answer that was remarkably similar to what we tell aspiring rally drivers here at Team ONeil.
“All these drivers out there think that they need to start rallying in a turbo all-wheel-drive car. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Although those are the fastest cars in rally at the highest levels, and that would be the ultimate goal for a driver who wants to progress through the ranks, the two-wheel-drive cars are the ones that you need to get good in first, in particular the front-wheel-drive cars. I think most new drivers have absolutely no idea how hard it is to win in the 2WD classes. Last year’s JWRC cars and this year’s WRC Academy cars are all FWD. And those are some fast cars!”
Chris discussed his experience at the school as a very positive one, and his only regret was that he hadn’t enrolled earlier in his career.
“Yeah, I wish I would have done this 2 years ago, that was probably my biggest mistake. I thought I had everything right with my technique, but there were a number of gaps in my knowledge, and after spending some time working with the instructors, we filled a lot of those gaps. This school was a lot more than just using your left foot to press the brake pedal. I have more confidence in complex maneuvers such as pendulum turns, and I didn’t have nearly as good a grasp of trailbraking as I thought. But also having the confidence to link one turning maneuver into another, I improved on that so much. We also worked with pace notes, and I even got to co-drive a little bit too, and I hadn’t done that for over five years! It rained a lot while I was there, and I think that helped. I liked training on a slick surface over a dry one. Training in wet or snowy conditions will highlight flaws in your technique more, and that’s important.”
Chris remarked that his stage times are already showing improvement over last year, and he can’t wait to get back in the car again soon.
“On the Asaph stage at STPR, we set a time that was 22 seconds faster than we set last year. That’s huge. I didn’t make a whole lot of changes to the car since last year, that was mostly from improved technique. Other stages showed improved times too. I just wish that our electrical problem hadn’t held us back over some of the stages, or we would have been able to collect more data on year-over-year improvements. I still think that I need some more seat to time to practice and refine my technique, and it will take a few more races to really get comfortable using all of the ‘new tools’ in my tool box, but I’m already seeing marked improvements and its only going to get better.”
“I’ll sum it up with this:
Cars don’t win races, drivers win races”
Chris is in second place in the 2WD National standings, behind Team ONeil instructor Wyatt Knox. Follow their chase for the championship at www.rally-america.com.