Dalton, NH – The challenges of navigating ice-covered dirt roads in freezing rain and blizzard conditions at Rally America’s Sno*Drift National Rally in Atlanta, MI, this past weekend weren’t enough to keep Team O’Neil Rally School & Car Control Center staff and former students from landing podium spots in three national and two regional rally classes.
Among the national podium finishers were Team O’Neil instructor Travis Hanson, who took first place with co-driver and father Terry Hanson in the Super Production Class and grabbed third place overall despite mechanical problems that threatened to end his race before it even began. Hanson made history at Sno*Drift last year by being the first ever to drive a Super Production car – basically a stock Subaru STI that has safety and suspension upgrades – to an outright win of a championship race.
Also on the podium once again was Chris Duplessis, three-time Rally America 2WD National Champion and a fellow Team O’Neil instructor, who took top honors in a Team O’Neil-built Ford Fiesta R2 in the 2WD Class, beating Team O’Neil graduates Andrew Comrie-Picard by 5 minutes and 23 seconds and Dillon Van Way by an additional 20 seconds.
There were several other Team O’Neil graduate podium appearances, including one more in the national rally and several in the two regional rallies that run concurrently with the national. Joseph Burke garnered a 3rd place win in the Open Class in the national rally; 1st place wins in the G2 class were awarded to Chris Greenhouse in the both the Sno*Regional and Drift Regional Rallies; Billy Man won 2nd place in the G2 class of the Drift Regional Rally; Carl Siegler took home 2nd place in the Open Class for both the Sno*Regional and Drift Regional Rallies; and 3rd place went to Peter Hascher in the Open Class of the Sno*Regional Rally.
While landing a podium spot is always a dream for rally competitors, often just being able to finish a race is regarded as a sizable accomplishment. With the conditions that Sno*Drift presented, completing all 24 stages, or timed sections of road, was a seemingly simple goal that many teams had set for the weekend.
“The icy conditions this weekend were crazy – you couldn’t stop, couldn’t turn – the roads were like ice rinks,” said Tim O’Neil, owner of Team O’Neil Rally School and 5-time U.S. Rally champion, who was at the race acting as technician for drivers Ed McNelly (Team O’Neil’s lead mechanic) and Verena Mei (former Team O’Neil student and instructor). “For both Ed and Verena, who each only have a couple of national-level rallies under their belts, their goals were to finish the race, not wreck their cars, and learn something from each stage. They both accomplished those goals and will be better equipped in terms of skills, knowledge, and preparation for their next rallies.”
Of the record 65 teams that entered the race, 27 have had training at Team O’Neil Rally School. 17 entered the national rally and all but two finished; 11 entered both of the regional rallies, with 2 not finishing the Sno*Regional Rally, and all finishing the Drift Regional Rally. “We pride ourselves on our finishing rate,” said O’Neil. “Through the skills we teach and training we provide, we help drivers develop the confidence they need to approach and finish a race. This goes for all of our students – not only the ones who want to compete in rallies, but those who also just want to be better drivers in general.”
The Team O’Neil staff and graduates will next put their rally driving skills to the test in late February at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood in Salem, MO.
Team O’Neil Rally School & Car Control Center is widely recognized as the top rally training school and car control center in North America. The school offers a safe environment for all students of all levels to learn to be better drivers and improve their responses to a variety of less than perfect driving scenarios, and specializes in loose surface training. Students learn skid control, accident avoidance, and vehicle dynamics. For more information about Team O’Neil’s classes and programs, visit www.teamoneil.com or call 603.444.4488.
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Here we are wrapping up the third week of January, 2012, and we’ve been driving through all sorts of wacky winter weather here in Northern New Hampshire. And while perhaps in many places it hasn’t been the fiercest of winters so far, many of us have certainly had to contend with a variety of winter weather driving conditions like snow and sleet and freezing rain. Keep in mind, the typically heaviest snowfall months of February and March are still to come. As such, if you have been as lax about your winter driving preparedness as Mother Nature has been about throwing the white stuff our way, now is a good time to make sure you’re in Winter Driving Mode and be prepared for the worst.
In this first of a 3-part series on what Tim O’Neil calls “Winter Driving Mode” (WDM), we talk about what it means to be in WDM. Being in WDM means both having your car properly prepared for winter, and most importantly, making sure your brain has switched over to WDM.
First, let’s review WDM for your car. We talked about this somewhat in our January newsletter “The Drift” and Tim is featured discussing some of this as well in the January/February issue of Yankee Magazine, but we wanted to recap it here too (hey – the more you hear something, the more it sinks in!).
- Have the Right Stuff in Your Vehicle. That is, be sure to have a survival kit that consists of a scraper or brush, jumper cables, emergency triangles, flat tire kits, flashlights, and windshield-wiper fluid. Have an extra cell-phone battery on hand or alternative means for charging your phone. Also, during the winter months always make sure you have an extra jacket, gloves, hats, appropriate footwear for the snow and cold, and a blanket.
- Check Your Tires. The best tires for winter are snow tires, which are made with a softer rubber and are designed to ride over the snow and compress it to make it grippy. Studded snow tires offer even more protection against icy conditions. It’s important to note that the better the snow tire, the worse its tread wear rating. Proper snow tires are noisy, feel squishy, and won’t last very long, but they’ll be a lot better in the snow, and your ABS and dynamic stability control will improve with good snow tires. Also, be sure to have four of the same kind of tire – having just two snow tires can lead to poor control when driving around slippery corners. And finally, you’ll want to adjust your tire pressure, which should be slightly lower in the winter than in the warmer months. Not sure what tires to use or what pressure to set your tires at? Ask a mechanic that you trust.
- Understand what ABS Brakes Can – and Can’t – Do. ABS brakes are designed to allow you to brake and steer at the same time. However, while ABS works great on paved roads or on glare ice, it’s not as effective on snow or gravel or other loose surfaces under which there is some grip. With ABS, you should increase your braking distances in snowy conditions (so if you have a tendency to ride up on other drivers’ rear ends, well, let’s just say you should back off when the weather turns snowy…). You may also want to consider turning off your traction control. Not sure how to do that? Check out your car’s manual. When you’re plowing through deep snow, you will want that traction control turned off so your tires can dig for grip on the road under the snow. But if your tires are only going to find ice under it, leave the traction control on.
- Learn How Your Vehicle Responds in Different Conditions. Find an empty parking lot after the next snowfall or sleet event and get to know your car again. Slam on the brakes while going straight, slam on the brakes while turning, switch to different modes (for example, if your car has summer, sport and winter modes, try the same move in all three modes), and note how the car responds in each instance.
So now your car is prepared for winter driving, and perhaps in empty parking lots you are too. But what about you while you’re cruising around on the road with other drivers? The single most important thing you as a driver can do to be in WDM is to PAY ATTENTION!
In the next installment of our WDM series, we’ll get more specific about what to be aware of when conditions change. But for the purposes of this blog post, let’s just say that multitasking while driving is unsafe, and especially when you’re driving in hazardous conditions. When the snow, sleet or freezing rain starts to fall, or when you hit snowy or wet or icy roads, it’s time to turn the cell phone off, turn the radio off, and focus on your surroundings. Be aware of the conditions – the weather conditions, the road conditions, the external temperature. Slow down, allow more braking distance, and adjust how you brake. You can’t be truly tuned in to what is going on around you while driving if you’re chatting away on your phone or even with the person next to you, or singing along to Lady Gaga or Twisted Sister at the top of your lungs (just sayin’…).
Also, another key component to making sure your brain is in WDM is to remember to slow down. If you’re going all out assuming that you’re ABS and winter tires and AWD are going to keep you safe on slippery roads, think again. Even the best drivers with the best equipped cars know they need to slow down when conditions call for it.
Stay tuned for our next blog, in which we discuss factors to be on the look-out for when driving in wintery weather.
NOTE: This blog was written by Gene O’Neil for Team O’Neil Motorsports and published on 12/29/11. We wanted to make sure this recap of TON student & instructor successes made it into the Team O’Neil Rally School files too! If you haven’t read it yet, check it out. Here’s to a 2012 filled with more successes, wins and glory (hey, who doesn’t want a little glory now and then?) for our students and staff.
The 2011 Rally America and Canadian Championship seasons have very special meaning to Team O’Neil Motorsports. Team O’Neil Rally School instructors and students enjoyed various degrees of success in 2011.
Travis Hanson celebrated the most successful season of his career as the newly crowned Rally America Super Production Class Champion.
The 26-year-old from Littleton, NH flawlessly campaigned a 2007 Subaru Impreza WRX STI with his father Terry as co-driver to a remarkable third place finish in the overall Rally America National Championship – a feat never accomplished before by a Production driver.
Hanson began making history and headlines at the opening round of the 2011 season when he became the first Super Production driver to ever claim an outright win in the National Series, defeating the factory-backed Subaru team, the privateer Rockstar Rally team, and a slew of fast Open Class cars at the Sno*Drift Rally. The under-sponsored crew of Hanson and Hanson immediately captured the hearts of fans and gained significant attention from the media with their story of underdog triumph. Hanson went on to control the points lead of the overall Championship well into the fourth round of the six-round Series, another first for a Super Production team, and clinched the SP Class Title by the fifth round.
Greenhouse, a graduate of the Team O’Neil 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 c
ome-from-behind victory in the fiercely contested Two-Wheel Drive National class at the fifth round of the Rally America 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.
Every year, the Rally America Championship recognizes the driver who has made the most significant progress in their first year of national competition by bestowing them with the ‘Rookie of the Year’ Award. This year, FY Racing’s Adam Yeoman was nominated as Rookie of the Year for his improved performance. The 28-year-old driver from Houghton, MI piloted his Open class 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX into fifth overall in the Rally America 2011 Championship. Adam is a 2010 graduate of the Team O’Neil Rally School.
Chris helped build the Team O’Neil Motorsports Ford Fiesta R2 and alm
ost drove to a STPR win in June before a crash at a late stage with a seven minute lead in the 2wd class ended the R2 debut. Chris rebounded at NEFR with an impressive victory. In October, Chris was selected by Ford Racing to drive in the WRC Academy Wales GB Rally with a very impressive showing before a rollover on day 2.
Wyatt Knox and Ole Holter put together an impressive season in the Mazda Speed3 and capped it off with a November Tall Pines victory in the Team O’Neil Motorsports Ford Fiesta R2. After Holter came on board as Co-driver, they earned back-to-back 2WD victories at 100 Acre Wood in February and the Olympus Rally in April. With 86 total points, Knox captured the Jon Wooden Cup representing the top 2WD driver in the Rally America Championship.
TON lead technician “Fast Eddie” showed that he is an “up and comer” in Rally. Having some success at NEFR and Charlevoix in 2011, Ed drove the Team
O’Neil Motorsports Ford Fiesta R2 Stage 1 at Tall Pines in November. After entering late and being assigned #62 he moved from 58th to 34th on the first day. Ed displayed his driving skills and finished an impressive 3rd in the 2WD class.
Tim O’Neil and Ken Block participated in Ford’s Octane Academy in September and tested the Team O’Neil Motorsports Ford Fiesta R2. Two days of testing the R2 really open the eyes of many who got to see the Rally Car go through the paces.
Ken Block had a pretty impressive Rally highlight reel of his own in 2011. Ken has become one of the biggest stars in the World Rally Championship and is still learning his trade. Ken often comments on how his success is directly related to his education at the Team O’Neil Rally School.
Team O’Neil students in the Rally America Championship
An impressive number of Team O’Neil students finished in the top 40 in the Rally America Championship in 2011. Dave Mirra (4), Adam Yeoman (5), Dillon Van Way (7), Mason Moyle (11), Andrew Comrie-Picard (12), Brian Gottlieb (13), Joseph Burke (14), Andrew Wickline (15), Chris Greenhouse (18), Heath Nunnemacher (22), Viorel Dobasu (26), Nick Allen (27), Lars Wolfe (32), Justin Carven (34), Mark Fox (34), Tracey Gardner (39), and Travis Pastrana (39).
We at Team O’Neil would like to congratulate our students and champions for a very successful 2011 season and offer best wishes for another successful one in 2012.