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Michael's Speed Zone

9 Mar 1999

By Michael Knowling

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Nothing is as sobering as having an accident in a car - especially when you're playing silly buggers at the time.

The other week I was out on a fine Sunday afternoon drive through some of Adelaide's inner rural farming districts. Not the stereotypical Sunday drive mind you - more a high speed blaze through the countryside. After an hour or so of the bitumen, both my passenger and I decided to hit the dirt tracks for our thrills. "We've got a 4WD turbo rally-machine under us; what could go wrong?"

Bad call.

Kuitpo Forrest is a great place to get your car sideways and away from everyone else in their boring vehicles. You own the road. The Subaru Liberty RS is a great car on the bitumen - very quick, but so forgiving you can pull major driving stuff-ups and still come out on top. It's almost unexciting. Almost... But anyone with rally driving experience will tell you driving on the dirt's a whole new ball game. You don't take the bitumen racing line through corners and sure as hell don't approach them half-committed. If you do, you'll come unstuck - so I found out!

Travelling at just over about 80km/h, we turned gradually into an easy looking right hander - but nothing happened, the car just understeered straight ahead. A quick lift off the throttle and a little more steering lock was applied to neutralise the understeer. But then it got all crossed up. I don't claim to be brilliant driver - any road driver who does is kidding themselves - but there was little I could do to gain control in the small space around me. Part way around the bend, the "road" camber switched the other way and this really brought the rear panels of the car around. At this point I got scared, jumped off the throttle and onto the stop pedal. Too late.

There was the sound of the small ball-bearing stones showered the underside of the bodypan as the car headed towards the inside bank. The bank which the car impacted against. Luckily, we hit it on an angle and scraped along the length, not meeting it directly head-on. Still, as the cloud of dust began to disperse, I peered through the windscreen expecting to see the bonnet in a pyramid shape, and a mangled bumper bar swinging from its mounts. To say I was concerned was a Top 10 understatement.

I dragged myself outside to inspect the damage and give myself a kick up the arse. But, thank you Lord, there were only scratches on the corner of the bumper bar, and the guard liner had popped out of its plastic mounts. I couldn't believe it, the front bumper must have passed by the embankment and just clipped it. My adrenaline rush subsided and I drove straight for the nearest piece of bitumen road. It was time to go home and watch some Sunday afternoon Disney cartoons...

On the subject of driving on loose surfaces, have you noticed the use of anti-lag turbo systems on the top Group A and WRC rally cars? I'm not sure how familiar our American audience is with the WRC (World Rally Championship), but I find it a very interesting sport. These cars are all loosely based on road-going production cars (although I have to wonder about the latest cars) and it's interesting to watch how the teams configure their cars.

A car set up for the snow of Sweden will be different to one ready to hit the streets of Corsica, and it's obvious in their selection of wheels, tyres, and suspension settings. To some extent they can also tune the engine to suit the conditions. On snow, the unmistakable sound of a blow-off valve can be heard venting whenever the driver suddenly backs off the throttle, but on the bitumen the instants boost response of an anti-lag system is often employed.

To put it simply, anti-lag uses a secondary air injection system into the exhaust manifold and an ECU setting that throws in extra fuel and retards ignition timing and/or randomly cuts spark. This change in fuel and ignition is brought on with a trailing throttle (ie backing off for gear changes, etc). Explosions occur in the exhaust manifold producing enough exhaust gas to whiz the turbo up to speed. The systems will give boost at minimal throttle openings, even down at very low rpm.

I've been in a car with an anti-lag system and witnessed how well the system worked. The throttle could be blipped and the tacho needle then held at 2000 revs - with about 7psi boost present at the throttle butterfly! Now that sounds like a massive advantage for cars that need a little extra go off the line.... Imagine being able to bolt a huge turbo to any car, and have the ability to get boost from about 1500rpm onwards and with tiny throttle openings - sounds like a dream to me!

But other than its high financial cost, the system does have some problems. It's widely thought that turbo life will be dramatically shortened by the relatively uncontrolled nature of the manifold explosions. It also means you'll destroy cat converters on a modern road car, and other than that, it can be bloody loud. Flames leaping out the tailpipe making whip-cracking noises might be impressive to you and me, but I don't think the local constabulary will be as enthused...

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However, one road legal car with such a system fitted as factory is the latest Mitsubishi Evolution Lancers. The car is a blatant rally car de-tuned for road use, and under the hood it packs a complete anti-lag system. All the valves and pipes are there, it just doesn't have the software enabled in the ECU to operate it - crap! Still, Mitsubishi releasing such a car with an anti-lag capability built-in says volumes about its effectiveness.

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But what if you don't own an Evo Lancer?

Call me an idiot, but I reckon anti-lag could be made to suit any turbo car with enough trial and error. Especially one with a big, slow-to-boost turbocharger. Maybe just dumping in extra fuel with some added air (via an EGR valve) would be able to produce a couple of psi where you want it?

If anyone has experimented with anti-lag or knows about its intricacies, please email me at michael@autospeed.com - I'd be intrigued to hear your stories!

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