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Interview with rising star Stephan Verdier
Author: Andrew Sutherland


http://www.universalrally.com/coppermine/albums/userpics/Stephan Practice.JPG

Last weekend I got a phone call with an invite to sit shotgun in Stephan Verdier?s PGT class winning Subaru WRX as he prepared for LSPR. Being the type of guy that spends hours a day checking out SpecialStage.com and monitoring the American rally scene on a daily basis via the internet, I was a bit confused because Stephan?s name isn?t anywhere on the LSPR entry list and since I usually service for him?..I wasn?t aware of any plane tickets in my name for the following weekend either. Needless to say, I was curious to find out what the Frenchman was talking about!

After Stephan picked me up, we had a couple hours in the car to chat so I immediately quizzed him about his trip to LSPR.

(AS) Explain to me your trip to LSPR? Last I heard you were skipping LSPR?

(SV) I received a call from Peter Workum about three weeks ago inviting me to come out and test his new 2004 STI Open class car built by Graham Wilcock of AutoSport Engineering. It took me all of .02 seconds to say yes and as I hung the phone up?..it felt like Christmas came early this year!

We went on to practice and I sat shotgun as Stephan worked a 5-mile section of dirt road. On the way home I told Stephan he needed to give me a full update once he got back! Well, he returned and I got the full scoop on how the testing went and was able to find out more about the Autosport Engineering rally car.

http://www.universalrally.com/coppermine/albums/userpics/peter cog.jpg

(AS) So you where flying out to test the car prior to LSPR? Weren?t you a little worried about damaging it right before the final Pro Rally of the season and last SCCA Pro Rally ever?

(SV) Yes and Yes!! I flew out to Hancock on Tuesday and planned to test the car Wednesday, 2 days prior to the start of LSPR. Wednesday morning was spent setting the car up for my driving position and Graham went through and explained the entire set up.

This car was amazing! It?s basically a WRC car but without the semi-auto transmission. The engine has been lowed and moved back. It sports a $20k 5 speed dog box with an electric center differential, which I?ve never driven before (the dog box). It has a huge AP Racing brake package developed for this car by Autopsort Engineering, Ohlin suspension etc?.It was a fare cry from my relatively stock WRX!


(AS) What were the main differences between your stock WRX and the AutoSport Engineering STI?

(SV) Besides the obvious expensive bits and endless panels of carbon fiber, the interior layout was perfect. The cockpit felt really small at first. I got used to it and actually really liked how close everything was. The handbrake and shifter are perfectly placed to minimize unnecessary body movement and made driving the car a lot easier. Additionally, the pedal box sits on the floor in front of the intercooler spray water tank. It felt kind of high at first, but after 5 minutes I was totally used to it.

(AS) So how did the car feel at speed?

(SV) Once I got strapped in, Peter kindly reminded me that he had a rally in 2 days and couldn?t afford any incidents. With that in mind we motored down a rural road to a 1.5-mile closed course. I was trying to get used to the dogbox before we hit the dirt.

The conditions weren?t really ideal because it had snowed several days earlier so it was a combination of ice, dirt and mud. Definitely not the ideal conditions I wanted to learn how to drive a 400 hp car in!! Peter and Graham had worked all day Tuesday on setting the car up for LSPR and picked the ideally suited tires for the days testing.

Once on course I did about 15-20 laps. The first couple of laps were pretty scary?. This car is FAST! The car accelerates in gravel faster than my car does in first gear on pavement?only it pulls that hard and fast through 5th gear. We ran the car without anti-lag, which I don?t even think you need because it?s got so much torque but I know Peter runs it with the anti-lag on. I?m still shaking from how much acceleration it had?. Your body just gets pinned to the seat!

Besides being blindingly quick, this car also makes my car look like a Pinto in the handling department. In my WRX I have to enter a corner way hot and then throw it sideways and hope I carry as much speed as possible through the corner. In Peter?s car, I just have to look in the direction I wanted to go and the car magically gets there?no drama!! It made driving so much easier and I could push harder with less effort. I think the main reason for this is that Graham focused on achieving a lower center of gravity, combined with an increase in torsional rigidity far beyond any other racecar I?ve ever driven. These factors certainly inspired confidence as the car felt so predictable and regardless of what was asked of it.

The course started to dry out and my pace really started to pick up. I noticed that my corner entry speed was about 10 mph higher than it would have been in my car and I was only at half throttle, not full throttle like in my WRX. In my car I?m always sliding into the corner and then standing on the gas midway through to pull me out. If I were to slam the gas mid corner in Peter?s car I?d be in the inside ditch in the blink of the eye. In fact, I think I only used full throttle in the long straight-aways. The throttle is really short, like an 1 ½ from zero to wrap speed! You really need a smooth touch with it!


(AS) It sounds like it might have been difficult adjusting to such a fast car. How was the learning curve?

(SV) The biggest thing to get used to was how fast the turns came. Again, this car was so fast that before I knew it I?d be in 5th gear flat out at 125 mph?.the corners came up quick so you have to be on your toes. Like I said before, the car is so well balanced that I was forcing myself to enter the corners way faster than my brain would allow me?I would just feather the throttle a bit and blast to the next corner?..only after I was out of the corner did I realize I could have gone 5 mph faster!!

I did almost 30-40 miles in the car and really was only able to use it to 60-70% of its potential. With another 40 miles in dry conditions I would have been able to utilize more of the car. Graham told me the car weighs the same as a WRC Subaru, has a similar center of gravity and balance but has more power?..talk about perfect!


(AS) So in this case the car made the driver, not vise versa?

(SV) A driver still has to have skill but with practice, this car makes it easy. Now I know why the WRC drivers are so fast, they have the best equipment possible. I always thought my car was set-up pretty well, and it is but nothing like the Autosport STI. It?s like comparing a KIA to a Ferrari. This is the best car I have ever driven and one the best experiences I?ve ever had. A big thanks to Graham and Peter for making it happen. Anyone serious about competing at the top of the sport and chasing a championship owe it to themselves to talk to Graham.

(AS) Wow, it sounds like you had a great time. I?ve noticed your name as been absent from several rallies lately and I heard you were thinking about giving Drift a shot. What are you plans for next year?

(SV) I am scheduled to drive GT Fabrications new Drift car at an upcoming Drift event here in Southern California. I was a little disappointed when the manufactures left rally since I was really working hard to try and secure a spot with one of the teams but it looks like that won?t be happening in 2005. As of now, I?m still looking at several options for next year. I want to see what direction Rally America takes the sport and go from there. Either way, I doubt I?ll be in PGT next year, especially after driving a true open class car.

I want to thank Stephen for taking the time to talk candidly with me.

Andrew Sutherland
UniversalRally.com
 

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$20K for a tranny!

Can't see me in your mirrors?
I must be in front of you!
 

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Having worked w/Graham, I can attest to his level of detail and craftsmanship he puts into every part he developed on this car.

Great guy, great shop, faaaaaaaaaaaast car. :)

Cheers!
-mykr.
 
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