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Ford Racing Fiesta Rally Experience; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

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By Jim Kerr

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Ford Fiesta Rally Experience

Put your left toe in, pull your left toe out, spin the wheel and shake it all about. That’s the Fiesta rally car dance. If you are good at it, the car will travel over twisty gravel roads in a smooth flowing fashion. Make a misstep and the dance suddenly ends – with the car in a ditch, in the woods, or worse.

Rally car drivers may be the best drivers in the world. A pavement race driver gets to practice the same corner a hundred times or more before the race starts. A rally car driver will see every corner only once, and road conditions constantly vary. During closed rally stages, they crest blind hills ready for anything, and the best do it at speeds we may call insane.

The techniques used by rally drivers are different than pavement drivers. A day at the Team O’Neil Rally School and Car Control Center in Dalton, New Hampshire gave me a glimpse and practice at a few of these skills. It gave me a whole new appreciation for rally car drivers.

The school provides year-round training for prospective rally drivers, emergency response personnel and driving enthusiasts. Classroom sessions complement technical driving practice, with skilled school instructors beside you. Team O’Neil starts student training in a fleet of 2011 Ford Fiestas. These 2011 Fiestas were used by Ford to introduce the Fiesta across North America and Team O’Neil has performed only minor modifications to make them ready as training cars. The carpet has been removed to make it easier to clean muddy floors, a roll bar with four-point seatbelts installed and a skid plate beneath the car protects parts from thrown gravel. Stability control, traction control and ABS are disabled – no electronic aids here! Other than that, the cars are almost Fiesta and a blast to drive.

Warning – driving techniques used by rally drivers should not be attempted without professional instruction. A day at Team O’Neil is an excellent way to start.

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