MILTON – The 55 employees at Vermont SportsCar have a little more room to work now, having moved in December to a shiny new 70,000 square foot facility out on Gonyeau Road in Milton. That’s a big jump from their previous home – a 30,000 square foot rented warehouse that became something of a Mecca for rally racing fans.
The new HQ is not yet open to the public, but built into the design is an impressive showroom and gift shop, along with a walkway that affords a grand view of technicians wrenching on the custom cars. That feature did not exist at the old HQ, where fans would show up like tourists, wanting to have a look at the epicenter of high-end rally racing.
“We would just have to get someone to give them a guided tour, but we were really just a busy shop,” said marketing director Chris Yandell.
For this reason, the new facility gives visitors an instant experience: it is clear they have arrived at the home of Vermont SportsCar and Subaru Motorsports. Two rally cars, one with a motocross bike on a roof rack, sit on display just inside the door. To the left, hats, shirts, RC models of rally cars, and other merchandise are for sale. But the showroom is just one small part of a top tier competitive racing operation that has grown from one man’s love of the sport to a small empire.
For the uninitiated, rally car racing, which dates back to around 1911, is a road racing sport that pits drivers in modified production cars against each other on existing roadways, running a mapped out course filled with twists, turns, and general high speed adversity. Rally is a team sport, with a driver and a co-driver. The co-driver tells the driver where to turn, how to turn, and what might be coming up on the course. The drivers drive, and the co-drivers watch and plan, and they never switch roles. Ever.
“You’ve got to be able to drive at night in the rain on a road you’ve never been on with somebody shouting into your ear the whole time,” explained Yandell.
Most rally racers are weekend wrenchers, taking an old coupe and welding up a roll cage, dropping in a more powerful engine, and then bombing around the circuit for good times. Those guys might spend $15,000 to field a car.
Vermont SportsCar is not in that class. It’s one of maybe five teams nationwide that race on a serious, elite, and technologically mind boggling level, actually getting paid to race.
Vermonter Lance Smith formed the company back in 1988, after rising to a level of notoriety as a co-driver in the sport. He originally wanted to restore exotic sports cars, but his connections with rally took his attention to custom building them.
Today, Smith and his team maintain six cars, competing in eight rally races and seven rallycross races each year. Rallycross is like rally, only on a closed track, and the cars pack double the horsepower.
The company also participates in 85 promotional events each year. It’s the extreme example of what happens when people who love to race just keep expanding, improving, and growing, with the singular goal of getting out and racing.
“Motorsports is marketing,” said Yandell. “Everything we do is to sell products. As we say, ‘Race on Sunday, sell on Monday.’”
With the scaled up approach comes a complexity that approaches fractal proportions.
VCS uses a 3D printer to create prototypes of engine components, joints, and all other parts of the car, just to test them for maximum effectiveness. If the part performs, they’ll go ahead and fab one for real-time use.
“It’s more than just taking a car and putting some race tires on it,” said Yandell. “There’s a ton of engineering that goes into it.”
To put it into perspective, Yandell said it takes a team of people just to start one of the cars. And weight is everything. The cars can’t weigh less than 2,800 pounds due to racing series regulations, and cannot be too heavy, so the team has to consider added pounds with every change and every innovation.
“We will spend $10,000 to take five pounds out of a car, it’s that important.” said Yandell.
VSC runs only Subarus, and is also the home of Subaru Motorsports USA. They build their cars from the frame of the Subaru WRX STI, but that’s really all that remains from the factory car. Every other component of the car is built by VSC.
One 600-hp Rallycross car takes just over 2,000 man hours and costs around $600,000.
Beyond the build, the cars, which get brutalized on the tracks, need constant maintenance, and a total mechanical rebuild between races. Dented, scuffed, cracked and misshapen hoods and doors hang like trophies on the walls in the maintenance bays, each one carrying its own story.
The kinetic energy packed into such vehicles can be extremely dangerous, and for this reason, designers have to take care to overbuild some parts of the car to avoid catastrophe.
Composite fabricator Simon Kribstock holds a kevlar box he built to house a fuel cell for the engine. It’s at least half an inch thick, made from the same stuff the military uses to make things bullet proof, but a puncture hole in the box from an exploding axle, reveals the perils of the sport. When that axle became a missile, without the Kevlar box, the fuel cell would have likely exploded.
“So it worked,” remarked Kribstock.
Other parts of the car are so light they feel like kites when held independent from the complete car, and shapes and surfaces are constantly tweaked and tested, kept secret from competitors until revealed at a race.
The goal, of course, is to go faster. A three quarter model with interchangeable body components is used in a wind tunnel, complete with rolling surface simulator, to test new designs.
“Once you’re in a wind tunnel, it really is serious,” said Yandell.
While VSC enjoys a healthy fan base, Yandell said rally is much more popular in Europe. To compete with other types of motor racing, VSC and Subaru Motorsports have created a reality TV-style series called Launch Control, which streams on social media and other platforms and features team members out on the circuit.
Meanwhile, the team’s rallycross events are televised on CBS Sports.
Most recently, drivers David Higgins and Travis Patrana took top honors at the Oregon Trail Rally, May 31 through June 2 and the team followed that success up last weekend when former Formula 1 driver Scott Speed won the Americas Rallycross of Mid-Ohio, the first round of the 2019 Americas Rallycross (ARX) season.
The new VSC facility will be open to the public in late summer.
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