Dan Farley of Vermont SportsCar Helps Get the Show on the Road
Growing up, Dan Farley dreamed of being a stand-up comedian. Or a firefighter. He wasn’t sure.
Those might seem like unlikely career choices for a guy who has spent the last two years serving as the engineer manager and lead engineer on the #11 Subaru WRX STI on the Subaru Rally Team USA (SRT USA) cars for Vermont SportsCar (VSC).
But if you think about it, you can see the connecting threads begin to emerge.
Dan Farley and Brandon Swett tweak the #11 before it’s ready to go back on the track. Photo: Lars Gange | subaru.com/rally
Take firefighters. They choose and master their tools. They drill relentlessly. They work hard to become expert in dealing with a ton of variables in potentially dangerous environments. And when things go wrong, they’re ready to adapt their skill set to the demands of the situation and save the day.
Comics, in turn, learn to develop a critical eye early on. They ask questions about why things work, and if not, why not. With answers in hand, they craft carefully structured pieces that fit together into a seamless whole. Then they take it out on the road to see how it performs. Sometimes they crash and burn. But the good ones learn from that experience, make refinements based on those real-world experiences, and the next time they take the stage, they do better. Sometimes a lot better.
There are secrets you won’t find in a book or online forum. … It takes years to build up this information to be ready to solve a problem quickly on event.
So while the world will never be able to enjoy Dan Farley’s talents as either a funny firefighter, or as a comic specializing in jokes about fire prevention, it’s not that much of a stretch that he ended up instead in a very different career, as lead engineer on the SRT USA team at VSC.
Back to School
As a kid, Farley always had an interest in taking things apart and understanding how things work.
“But I didn’t always put them back together,” he confesses.
By his early 20s, that restless curiosity, coupled with a love of working on cars, led him to Vermont Technical College to learn automotive technology and mechanical engineering. But what really kick-started his young career was the landing of a key internship in the transmission department at VSC.
From left to right: Robert Vaa, Dan Farley, and Sverre
Isachsen discuss strategy at X Games Austin.
Photo: Lars Gange |subaru.com/rally
“I was really fortunate,” Farley says. “A few months in, I went to the first X Games featuring rally cars to help support the team. We swept the podium and it was an amazing experience, let alone a great summer vacation between semesters!”
Farley quickly proved himself at VSC. “My first job on a race team was as a gearbox technician working on engines and turbos,” he recalls, “later working as a rally technician for a couple years, then as an assistant engineer, eventually becoming an engineer on the rallycross team, and now in my current role.”
While he was cutting his teeth in rally racing with VSC, Farley continued to devote himself to years of additional academic study to further hone his skills.
As of this writing, he has four degrees under his belt: an Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Automotive Technology, an A.A.S. in Mechanical Engineering Technology, a Bachelor of Science in Electromechanical Engineering Technology, and a Master of Engineering in Engine Systems. At this point, it’s reasonable to wonder if maybe the guy has enough sheepskins to do the job.
“Yeah, that’s enough,” Farley laughs.
But as Farley is careful to note, as a motorsports engineer, your education is never really over.
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
“It’s an interesting blend of theory and application,” he says of his work with VSC. “There are secrets you won’t find in a book or online forum. It could be easy to design a part that fits, but Colin Smith, who taught me the ropes in rally, would point out the technician may need to change the part with one tool, upside down, outside in the rain. It takes years to build up this information to be ready to solve a problem quickly on event. I’ve learned so much on the job.”
Farley makes race-day adjustments to the #11 WRX STI. Photo: Lars Gange | subaru.com/rally
Farley makes race-day adjustments to the #11 WRX STI. Photo: Robert Bundy
During the season, Farley works with the technicians, fabricators, and design engineers to address issues from the previous event, as well as helping with the installation of new parts.
On race days, Farley is responsible for the car prep and adjustments at the track, and generally focuses on Sverre Isachsen’s car once the event starts. “But I will move to other cars if there is a problem,” he notes.
“I work closely with another engineer, Michael Zotos,” Farley says, “who primarily focuses on Bucky Lasek’s car, and we share information or concerns throughout the event to improve both cars.”
“During the race we’re reviewing logged data to improve the ECU [Engine Control Unit] calibration to maximize power output, monitoring the launch program, and the turbo anti-lag,” Farley explains. He also acts on the driver’s feedback to make suspension changes, and helps the technicians troubleshoot problems.
We rely on a combination of the logged data, watching the car on the track, and driver comments to puzzle together an understanding of what is happening.
Off-season? What Off-season?
Don’t think for a minute that Farley kicks back once the racing season comes to a close. As the lead engineer on the rallycross team, Farley is deeply involved in decisions regarding the preparation and development of the rallycross cars.
“In the off-season, we go through an intensive development program to improve performance and reliability of items we could not address during the previous year and do complete new car builds,” he explains.
“We build all rallycross engines at VSC and use an in-house engine dyno cell and AWD chassis dyno to run-in the engines, evaluate new parts or strategies, and develop the ECU calibration,” he says. If that all sounds like a ton of work, well, it is. But Farley would be the first to tell you that all of that hard work pays off come race time.
Sharing the Passion
Outside of the day-to-day race operation, Farley also enjoys how his work allows him to travel all around world. “It’s great to meet the fans when we go to events and see their passion for the cars and racing,” he says.
Timing. Preparation. Saving the day and winning the crowd. Hey, maybe Dan Farley never really lost sight of his original career goals after all.
Tech Notes: Dan Farley Breaks it Down
Run-in the Engine
When an engine is newly built or rebuilt we break it in on the dyno to ensure correct operation. First we check for leaks and that all sensors are working correctly. It is important that the piston rings develop a good seal to the cylinder liner to create max power and prevent blow-by. After the engine is broken in, we test it in RPM steps and sweep through the RPM range to confirm the power output and make any adjustments on the ECU.
We use a motorsport ECU that can be programmed to adjust the fueling, ignition, and boost levels. On the dyno we can hold a specific engine RPM or load and adjust tables in the ECU to optimize power at each step until we have covered the entire operating range of the engine.
ECU Calibration Around Power Delivery
The drivers may be looking for more power in a certain area and we can increase boost or the ignition advance to increase the power. At times the power may be too great, such as on a loose surface, and we will adjust it to make the car more drivable.
The Launch Program
For the launch strategy we need to hold the engine to a certain RPM and boost to get off the line quickly. If the boost or RPM is too high for the grip level of the track, there will be a lot of wheelspin. If they are too low, the car will stall on the line. With the launch critical to a good rallycross finish, the launch is continuously monitored and adjusted.
When the driver is off the throttle, the turbo spools down. When he or she reapplies the throttle, there is a time delay before the turbo achieves the target boost. There are tables in the ECU to improve the turbo response, which is called the anti-lag strategy. The anti-lag is adjusted by bypassing air past the throttle with a special valve, retarding ignition and cutting fuel. We change the anti-lag aggressiveness depending on how hard the drivers want the power to come back in. The anti-lag is hard on the turbo, so we monitor the temperatures and pressures in and out of the turbo to prevent damage