In the first installment of this series we introduced you to Project STi. Yes, we are going to add more power, but we thought that the best first step would to be to start working to correct the STi's major weakness when compared to its arch enemy the EVO, its handling.
Now don't get us wrong, the STi is a fine handling car bone stock but it doesn't quite have the same bit of "Oh my goodness" that the EVO, one the best handling cars out of the box period, has. We plan on fixing this. By all means, the STi is no slouch on the road course and it turns similar lap times at the track, but what seems like effortless lapping in the EVO is hard work in the STi. It doesn't have quite the same balance and poise the EVO has.
When researching suspension modifications for the STi, we came across the Australian company, Whiteline several times. After studying their website we found quite a few unique and innovative suspension products they offer for the STi, as well as for many other cars. With this information in hand, we sought them out at the SEMA show and met up with Jim Gurieff, Whiteline's general director. We had quite an interesting conversation on the technical aspects of suspension tuning.
Whiteline has an interesting tuning philosophy of moderate spring rates and stiff sway bars to control body motion, even for competition use. This is somewhat different from the approach that many Japanese and American suspension tuners use. We were a little skeptical that this would to be the right setup for a serious Time Attack effort. Jim maintained that their setup would work well for track use, while maintaining a reasonable street ride. When sensing our skepticism, Jim invited us to Australia to experience Whiteline's prowess at suspension tuning first hand, both under real-world street conditions and on the racetrack. How's that for pride and confidence in one's work?
It took a few months to get our schedules to match up but once they did, it was only a 17-hour flight until we arrived in Australia. One of the first things we noticed after getting off the plane was the number of tuned WRXs driving around the streets of Sydney. You would see one every few minutes. The WRX has got to be the Honda Civic of their continent. After a day of acclimating and lessons in Australian culture, which involved eating kangaroo meat, we were ready for some track testing. (Note: Australians don't really eat kangaroos but some places serve it to tourists. Nevertheless, kangaroo tastes good.) The next day the real fun began when the Whiteline staff took us to Wakefield Park, a local racetrack that Whiteline uses for development testing. This alone impressed us. Many aftermarket suspension companies don't conduct track testing with professional drivers and engineers. For some, a blast on a twisty public street does it.
We were brought to the track in Whiteline's flagship vehicle of sorts, the P25. The P25 is a joint development between Whiteline and MRT, one of Australia's top Subaru tuners. The goal of the P25 was to build a car that a successful businessman would buy to get around in, in lieu of some sort of super-expensive sports touring machine. In Australia's laid back culture, conspicuous displays of wealth are considered to be ostentatious and made fun of.
With only 1/16th of the population and about the same total area of America, lightly populated Australia has its share of rough back roads. Many of the smaller towns outside the few urban areas have unpaved or rough asphalt roads. These road conditions make the rally-bred WRX a practical sports car. For these reasons, a well-to-do Australian may very well choose an STi over a Porsche. It's this sort of road condition that Whiteline's suspension kits are designed for. Conversely, many of the suspension kits from Japan are calibrated for Japans network of well-paved and maintained roads, hence the stiffer calibrations that we are used to seeing.
The folks at Whiteline and MRT had more in mind than building a practical sports car with the P25; it's more like a practical supercar. The target was to turn just as quick of a lap time, or quicker, at Wakefield Park than a Porsche GT2 while keeping a decent ride quality and having a perfectly tractable, non-tempermental engine. Whiteline developed the P25's supple yet grippy suspension, while MRT handled the engine and brake development.
MRT stands for Middleton Rally Team, named after Brett Middleton, champion rally racer and Whiteline test driver. MRT's 2.5-liter motor makes about 500-crank horsepower on pump gas and has a broad and tractable powerband. In Australia, you can buy a P25 from select Subaru dealers, much like purchasing a Saleen from select Ford dealerships in the States. If a P25 is purchased, the motor comes with a 6-month warranty, unheard of for an extensively modified motor here.
The P25 did reach its design goals and is capable of lapping Wakefield Park about two seconds a lap quicker than the GT2, while costing about half as much. At Wakefield, Brett rode with us to show us the ideal driving line. He was rather nervous that the dumb Yank was going to do something dumb and smash up the P25.
We didn't disappoint him. I continually fumbled the left-hand shifter (Australia is a RHD country) and over-revved the engine, making him wince. Not wanting to see his masterpiece of an engine scattered all over the track, Brett handed me the keys to an Opal Astra compact car to get use to left-handed shifting in a cheap compact before letting me drive the P25 again.