by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Jason Swoboda

There’s no better way to start a season in any form of motorsport than with a victory. That’s exactly what Sneak Attack Rally’s Nathan Usher and Marianna Langosch did in December, when they kicked off the Rally America National Championship with an overall win at the Nemadji Winter Trail Rally in their 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon. The duo won three stages at the event and took the overall victory by more than 20 seconds.

Since then, Usher and Langosch have also teamed for two more class podiums: a class win at Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, and second in class at the Southern Ohio Forest Rally, despite facing mechanical issues in that event. Today, Usher details his methodical approach to perfecting one of the series’ top cars this season:

When did you pick up this car and where did you get it?

I bought the car in 2008. It was my daily driver, rallycross, autocross, and TSD rally car for many years before I caged it and starting using it for stage rally.

Any nicknames for the car?

I don’t name my cars, so I usually just call it “the blue car.” Marianna sometimes calls it “the TARDIS."

Why was this the right car for you to use in Rally America?

Since I already owned the car and had lots of experience rallycrossing it and knew how it handled, it made the most sense to cage it and continue using it for stage rally. In fact, I think I should have caged this car two years earlier instead of buying the ’87 Golf GTI that I started rallying in.

Aside from safety regulations, what have you done to improve its performance?

The four big performance improvements I’ve done are:

1) Good rally suspension. I’m using Baratec (RS & SP) struts.  It’s the most expensive item I have in the car and well worth the cost.

2) Gearing. In Open Light, you don’t have much power, so having gearing that keeps the motor in its power band as much as possible is crucial. I did some math and ended up choosing a little bit different gearing than what most people say to use, and it has worked out well for me.

3) Motor. I had a motor built for the car with the goal of having as much reliable horsepower as I could get on pump gas. That motor blew a few events after it was built, but I was able to carry the heads over onto a factory short block and it still makes good power for the class. I also went to an aftermarket ECU to raise the rev limiter (the optimal shift point for each upshift is above the factory rev limit) and set shift lights at the optimal rpm for each gear shift.

4) Car setup every event. Last year, instead of spending money upgrading the car, I decided to instead focus on car setup. Now I corner balance and align the car before and after every event and keep track of things like tire pressure, tire wear, weather conditions, road conditions, etc. I learned a lot by having that data, and I think it’s a big factor in how I was able to improve so much without spending money on car upgrades.

When it’s not rallying, where’s the home base for this car?

The car stays at home in Mason, MI between events. I usually try to drive it to work once a week so that I’ll notice small issues before they become big problems, but lately I haven’t been doing that as much, which led to our wheel bearing failure at SOFR.

When was your first event with this car and how did you do?

My first event in the car was Sno*Drift 2013. I picked up the car from being caged at the end of December and sold my other rally car just after that, so I worked frantically throughout January to get the car ready to go. Then I flipped the car onto its roof on the first stage of the rally because of some bad habits I picked up driving the Golf, which didn’t translate well into a much faster car on ice.

Has anybody else rallied this car over the years?

No, I built the car and have never rented it out to any other drivers.