Here at Afterburner, we always strive to make light of the connections between man and machine. We try to convey the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that go along with having a true connection with your car. The bond formed between a car enthusiast and their automobile is something only understood by those who experience it. To form a physical and emotional connection with something that isn’t living, something that doesn’t have a soul, that’s something that takes true passion and love.
Now, we aren’t saying that cars can’t have a soul or personality all of their own. Those are usually formed or felt due to particular aesthetic or driving attributes that are specific to that vehicle and only that. However, a car’s sour or personality can be molded or altered by the owner. Modifying the vehicle to suit your needs or tastes can give the automobile a look and feel all of it’s own.
Some people like to make only visual modifications to their ride, to increase the cars visual impact and to please their own artistic preferences. While others like to focus only on the performance of the car or truck, to change the driving characteristics to suit their wants and needs. Even more people like to do a mix of both, in an effort to try and reach the perfect balance of form and function.
Regardless of what any one single owner likes to do with their pride and joy. We at Afterburner always say that a good car should be like the perfect sword. Formed, forged, and tailored to suit the owner. The perfect sword (read car) should be an extension of the wielder (owner), their thoughts, movements, and emotions should become one and the same. What we’re saying is, that in order to form a perfect connection with our automobile it needs to be an extension of our own personality. It should be innately ours and no one else’s.
This brings us to our subjects for the day. Brian Ballinger and his stage rally prepped 2004 Subaru WRX.
We met Brian and his wild Subbie at our first ever rallycross in 2014. While we didn’t share much in the way of conversation that day, the showing that Brian and his WRX put on that day was more than enough to make an impact. From that point on, we payed a little closer attention to what was happening every time Brian was out on course.
Brian came into possession of the Subaru in the spring of 2006, two years after the car rolled off the assembly line in the Gunma Prefecture of Japan. It didn’t take long for Brian and the Subaru to get their first taste of gravel action. After attending his first autocross, one month after purchasing the turbocharged Impeza, his friend Chris regaled him with tales of this motorsport, similar to autocross but on dirt. Rallycross.
Two weeks later, after competing in his first rallycross event it was all over. Brian had been bitten by the rally bug, HARD. What followed was eight years, in which Brian and the little Subaru cut their teeth in cone lines, dirt courses laid out all across the Mid-West and rest of the United States. Over the course of nearly a decade, the little WRX slowly made the transformation from daily driver, to fully prepped stage rally car.
That gets us to where we are now, in the middle of a recently harvested corn field, on a crisp late fall morning in Upland, Indiana. Over the year that we’ve known Brian the Subaru has gone through it’s most vigorous evolution in it’s rallying career. It made the transition from rallycross championship winner, to stage rally car.
Before we move on to the modifications that got the car stage ready, lets go over how well the duo did in rallycross. They scored a second place in SCCA Rallycross Nationals in 2013, as well as overall points championships in the Great Lakes Division, OVR Series, Eastern States Championship, and a second in the National Challenge Championship. Quite the resume if I do say so myself. Back to the car though.
Modifications to the car come in the form of AGX Shocks paired with factory springs (his sponsor Hoosier Performance Development is currently in the R&D stages of a bespoke gravel suspension setup for the car). Legacy GT gears fill in the gearbox, while a front OBX KSD, 20kg Center Diff, and R160 OBX rear LSD are in charge of getting the rotational inertia generated by the 2.0L EJ20 Turbo Flat Four to the ground.
Speaking of the engine, the car runs larger injectors, fuel lines and a larger fuel pump so that the car can be fed by a mixture of corn and gasoline. That’s right, this Subaru burns E85 Ethanol.The car is running a Carberry ROM that allows Brian to run anti-lag and launch control for the turbo. A cold air intake, and a turbo back exhaust are the only other modifications made to the engine. Everything that resides on the inside of the motor is all 100%, 155k mile factory original Subaru equipment. A true testament to the quality that Subaru builds into their vehicles.
Remember earlier when I was writing about how the perfect cars are an exact reflection of their owners? Well, underneath the rather understated exterior (sans the hood and fender graphics), sits a really wild interior. A bright yellow painted, FIA spec roll cage fabricated by Thompson Racing Fabrication dominates the majority of the innards of the WRX. OMP TRS-E seats and HPE harnesses are tasked with keeping Brian and his Co-Driver restrained at all times. The whole interior clashes with everything else, from the yellow cage, the red pads, to the orange harnesses. None of it should work together aesthetically, but it does. The last finishing garnish to the interior is the switch panel, that resides where the factory radio used to be, fabricated out of and old Indiana license plate. To make sure that no matter where, Brian and the Subaru are, they will always be back home.
Speaking of home. Like the interior, there is more to Brian than is just skin deep. On the outside he may be mistaken for just another farmer kid from the middle of nowhere Indiana, but you couldn’t be more wrong. As we, his wife, his parents, his sponsors, his friends, or just about anyone who has had the pleasure to get to know him, have found out. He is one of the most genuine, hard working, and goal driven people we’ve had the pleasure of meeting with Afterburner.
His driving style says it all. Fast, sideways, and 110% committed. Brian looks up to the likes of David Higgins and Travis Pastrana. It’s easy to see why, with a total of eleven Rally America Overall Championships between the two of them, they are a force to be reckoned with. Brian, after his first season of NASA RallySport finished the season Third in points in his class, he even missed the last event of the year. If that’s anything to go off of, he has a promising road ahead of him.
Brian’s goals with the Subaru are to continue to stage rally, to hopefully earn his licence to compete in Rally America, and to hopefully get a podium. Well, judging from what he’s been able to do so far, I’d say he’s got a pretty good chance of doing all of those things. He has been able to do something that many of us in the car community strive to do (including me) which is to take your run of the mill, daily driver and make it into a full blown race car.
Rest assured, we are going to follow and support Brian and the WRX throughout their exploits in American rally.
Brian has a some people he would like to thank. Rather than list them out, it would be better if I just let the man himself do it.
“My parents, my very patient wife, my family. They’ve all been supportive. Chris Smith for getting me into the sport, mentoring me my first few seasons, and still supporting me to this day! All of my friends in and out of the car/rally scene. Indiana Rallycross for helping me practice for the stages. All my sponsors, especially Hoosier Performance Engineering, 46 Graphincs, and Loyale Fabrications. They’ve helped me so much this past year. And everyone that comes out to my rally every year to support me. Oh, and I owe a lot, and I mean A LOT to Jason Massey from productions b JPM Media. His advice, photography, media experience, and connections have helped me more than I can say.
And all the people that donated to my GoFundMe that helped me get to my first stage!!! THANK YOU”
– Brian Ballinger
Video of the Subaru HERE