Aaron Ekinaka has been working feverishly to get his Impreza ready for its first stage rally event. That event is rapidly approaching. We caught up with Aaron to get an idea how he views the world on the cusp of his first rally.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How old are you, where do you live, what do you do for a living?
I am 31, still recently married and working as the IT guy for a sunglasses company in San Clemente, CA. I commute to work from Aliso Viejo, CA where DirtyImpreza Enterprises is headquartered. This is my second full time job – keeping the website up, current, and always striving to find ways to get our name out into the rallying world.
How did you get into rally and where do you get your rally tech/community?
Do you have a rally club? Are you online?
I’ve been interested in rally for a long time. I think for a while growing up there were even some televised events in the US that I saw. Always thought it was the most intense form of motorsport out there; just so much going on for one driver to tackle at any given time.
Once I moved away to college I realized that anyone could modify their own car, as there were a bunch of guys who would tinker with any make or model car. It was then that I decided once I had enough money I would get something that had a lot of aftermarket support. Eventually, I ended up in a Subaru and once I tried my had at some rallycross (hosted by the legendary Gravel Crew) I was hooked.
Obviously, the primary source if information/technical information for me is DirtyImpreza.com (DI), but there are a number of other websites that I frequent, including rally-america.com, nasarallysport.com, and specialstage.com. DI strives to reach out across as many relevant social networking sites as possible including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and many others, so yes, I’d say I’m very much online all the time.
What kind of car is it? (year, make, model)
The rally car is a 2001 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS. Seeing as how I plan to compete in a production class for a while, the motor is relatively stock, but just about everything else that is needed to compete in a stage rally has been upgraded (roll cage, gravel suspension, seats, harnesses, rally electronics). Lots of money has been spent on safety equipment.
Why did you choose this particular car? Features? Benefits? Brand loyalty?
My choice was pretty much set from the very beginning. My first Subaru was a 2004 STi and it quickly became apparent that when things break on that car it is very expensive to repair. So, what I decided to do was choose an older Impreza platform that had a lot of cheap interchangeable parts with other model years. The 2001 2.5RS was a perfect match for this, as it was the last of the GC chassis Imprezas, and had a robust naturally aspirated motor, plenty of aftermarket support, and many parts that could be found in various junk yards and for sale forums. Another big plus that played into the equation is the ability to swap the entire USDM STi motor and drivetrain into the GC, so once the time comes to go into Open Class we will have a really great car to do it with. I think I first had the inspiration to do something like this by watching Matt Iorio‘s GC’s a few years back.
Did you buy or build your rally car? Why did you choose to go this route?
My car has been built from the ground up, but that’s not saying that I did everything myself. I don’t possess the skills or resources necessary to convert a stock car into a stage rally capable vehicle. I had a lot of help along the way, especially from Kyle Jackson at Jackson Rally. He is the one that has been able to work his metal magic to get everything to come together. Still, there were plenty of things that I could tinker with on my own so I have learned a lot about this car in the process.
Honestly, I went this route because I saw an opportunity to document an entire build thread on Dirty Impreza. It is a very big gap to convert from weekend rallycross warrior to stage rally competitor, and this was something that I wanted to show everyone that visits DI. Now, the debate about building vs. buying a rally car has been beat to death on every single rally website that there is out there, but I do have this to say: yes, you will save money in the long run by buying well sorted rally car outright, however the intimate knowledge that I have about my car, along with the feeling of knowing that we converted a grocery getting 2.5RS into a gravel attacking beast is a very satisfying feeling.
How long did it take you to get the car ready for competition?
I had an overall vision for the entire build, and it was to show that a regular guy with a normal income can build a rally car and compete. A lot of people out there blame their personal situations for preventing them getting on stage and running rally events, but this for the most part is just a scapegoat for not wanting to commit. Sure, If you have lots of disposable income it is easier to go out and compete in the next rally event, but with some planning (and a hefty amount of sacrifice) you can build a rally car and get out there just like everyone else.
My build has taken roughly 2 years which by most people’s standards is an extremely long time. I’ve made plenty of mistakes moving along, which have no undoubtedly slowed progress, but still I’ve persevered on to see the whole project through even when faced with the financial fiasco of planning a wedding among other things.
What is done and what needs to be done?
The car is pretty much good to go at this point. However, something I downplayed when getting into all this was how much it would cost to purchase all the personal safety items one must acquire before you can finally race the car. I located a full face Peltor helmet on eBay so I saved a few bucks there. Also, I had to install some HANS posts on this helmet because it was made before when US rallies required head and neck restraints. The car has zapped much of my funds so for my first event I will most likely be borrowing a friends HANS device.
I’ve learned that I have a really disproportionate body, which makes finding a race suit hard to do. I’m roughly 5’5″ and 160lbs but have fairly broad shoulders and short legs. No race suits out there will have short enough legs but enough width in the torso to fit me right, so a custom suit seemed like a great idea. I got a hold of Elite Motorsport Apparel to build me a suit that fits perfectly and with some DirtyImpreza.com embroidery to top it all off.
Still to do though is a lot of finishing touches on the car. We need to get the gravel coilovers serviced, get some odds and ends fab work done, and try to locate any potential problems with the car before we go racing.
What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome in getting this far?
How did you do it? Who has helped you out?
The challenges are numerous, and I could seriously go on and on filling this entire web page with all the trials and tribulations we’ve been through getting the car together. We’ve faced scrapping an entire RS shell due to frame damage and rust, to figuring out how to wire all the relays for the HID rally lights, to getting the damn seats to mount up correctly.
So many people have helped me along the way, most of which I have become good friends with or talk to now on a regular basis. Kyle and Keith Jackson, Barrett Dash, Odi Bakchis, Greg Landes, Al Hatfield, Costas Tsolkas, Emm Sim, Paul Eddlston, Chris Chapman, Charles Buren, Dave Forman, OP, Jeremy, Justin, Sean, Dave, Louie, Loren… the list goes on and on. I’m sorry if I forgot anyone!
What challenges do you see in the immediate future and how do you think you’ll address them?
What we have going on right now is just a bunch of small issues. I bent one of the strut tops out practicing recently which was only discovered recently after disassembling the coilovers for some basic servicing. I also have to figure out what the best way is to attach some under body protection on the car and where the coverage is needed most. The rally computer needs to be mounted and I’m not entirely sure if I wired it up correctly just yet, it powers on and increments but we need to calibrate it.
There are still a lot of questions about how much gear we really need to carry in the trunk when we’re out racing on stage. I’ll get most of these issues sorted out once the car gets back into the shop at Jackson Rally. Kyle is always full of great ideas! Other than that it would be great to have a dedicated tow vehicle instead of having to rely on people to help out with towing, but for now I will just have to bribe people with gas money, beer, and food.
Tell us about your first rally – which one it is, where it is, why you chose this rally, and such.
My first rally is going to be Prescott Rally this October in Prescott, Arizona. I choose this rally because not only is it relatively close to where I live, but it is also the final event for the United States Rally Championship (USRC), so there will be a lot of teams there. The roads are supposed to be fast and smooth which is very appealing. Running some night stages will also be super exciting. It’s a rally that has been running for 20+ years so I’m sure the organizers know how to run a good event.
What is your game plan for this event?
My personal game plan for the event is literally just to finish, I don’t care if I come in dead last. The goal is to just cross that finish line each day with the car in one piece. I’m really excited to roll up to the start line on stage one and have my co-driver count down 3-2-1 GO!
What are you most looking forward to at this event?
Getting in lots of seat time, working with my co-driver, and having a good time with the other teams that are coming out. One of the best things about rallying is the partying with friends after the race. There’s always some good shenanigans that go down after the cars are finally parked for the night.
What are you most concerned about prior to this event?
Making sure that the car is in good working order before we get to the event. I’ve taken it out for several shakedown sessions (driving over 100+ miles each time on dirt roads) but I still don’t know exactly how well the car is going to hold up to the constant abuse of a competition weekend.
Money is something that worries me too, the expenses rack up so fast when you figure how much hotel rooms are for 4 nights, fuel to tow out there, food, beer, etc. Then there is the human factor, I really want to avoid doing something stupid (arriving to a time control early, get lost on a transit, put the car into a ditch). We won’t know unless we give it a shot…
I really can’t wait for the entire experience as I’ve been planning for this for so long now. Hope that everyone can make it out to support DI members that are entered in Prescott Rally this year!
Special thanks to Aaron for taking the time from his tight, pre-rally schedule to chat with us. There’s still a lot left to do and the clock is already ticking.
You might have noticed this article was titled “Before & After.” The Prescott Rally runs October 1st and 2nd north of Prescott, Arizona. We’re gonna give Aaron a little breathing room to revel in the thrill of finally realizing his rally dream, but then we’ll be chatting with him about what he learned at his first event. What was important? What wasn’t? And more.
Thank you for spending some time with us on Gearbox Magazine today. Press on regardless!