Subaru privateers have a formidable arsenal at their disposal for the 2007 Sasol SA Rally Championship, with all five crews in determined mood to lift the Production Car and Class N4 trophies at the end of the eight round series.
Nicholas Ryan and Schalk van Heerden, the 2006 Production Car and class N4 champions, are not going to give up their hard-fought titles without a serious and prolonged fight.
The Bosal-backed team has imported the latest Subaru Impreza WRX N12B to take on the opposition. The car is in South Africa undergoing preparation for the first round of the championship, which gets underway in Cape Town on 23 March.
"We've seen how close to S2000 the latest N4 cars can be", says Nicholas. "The car has more rigidity and bigger brakes and knowing the whole package is on the mark will give us a lot more confidence".
"The secret of this Impreza is in the set up. If we drive on the pace, we have a good chance to earn a couple of podium finishes in spite of more S2000s to hunt down. Charl (Wilken) will be our strongest competitor. It will take him a couple of events to learn about the car, but I'm more than happy to help if they ask for any advice", Nicholas added.
Visser du Plessis and Dave Lewkowicz return with their well-sorted Subaru Impreza WRX STi with backing from Pirtek, the hose and fittings company, and Kreepy Krauly. The Pretoria diamond dealer is confident looking at the year ahead.
"It's going to be a tough year. The competition is so strong that if you go off on a corner or have a puncture, you'll be out of the running", said Visser. "My car is well sorted. We are definitely going all out for the Production Car championship - like everyone else. My car is a N12 (2006) specification, so it is as good as anything out there", Visser added.
"I don?t really remember the route once I've driven it; I'll handle whatever they throw at us", he concluded.
In a surprise off-season move, Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich (the 2006 class A7 champions) have imported the latest Prodrive-built Subaru Impreza WRX N12B and will run under the Sasol/Konica Minolta Subaru banner. Although Charl has never rallied a four-wheel drive car before, Greg has a good dose of experience.
"I've heard so many things about the Subaru. I've been told it is so much faster than an A7 car it's scary. When I get to the first stage in Cape Town, my only thought will be to get through the stage unscathed and see how we compare to the other guys in the class", said Charl.
He continued: "The Subaru has big brakes front and rear and I expect it will be well balanced. It?s about 250kg heavier than my A7 car was, so braking distances will be an issue to start with, but I don?t expect a problem. I hope the stages are open and flowing so I can stretch the car and see what it's capable of doing".
At the behest of sponsors Bosch and Team Total, Lola and Megan Verlaque are racing against time to build a new Subaru Impreza WRX STi in time to start the rally. The well-known Rally Chicks are competing in the FIA African Rally Championship, where they scored a strong 3rd overall in the opening Rally of Tanzania and were 7th in the Kenyan round, before a mysterious electrical problem prevented them from returning to Nairobi.
"We will have a standard 6 speed STi gearbox for Cape Town as our new 'box hasn't arrived yet. I don't think it will be much of a handicap in the Western Cape as the stages are very fast and quite open. I'm not that familiar with the stages as we dropped out in Helshoogte last year", Lola said of her forthcoming domestic season.
"It will be good to be able to do a sprint type of rally again. In Africa, you have to trade some outright speed with the need to preserve the car, as the African stages are very long and extremely rough. We aim to be consistent rather than blindingly quick, and hopefully, we can be in the top three in class N4. It will be good to give Bosch and Team Total a good finish".
"The Cape will be a good event, at least the smoother roads will be easier on the body", Lola laughed.
Rounding out the Subaru challenge is the Hencom Motorsport Subaru Impreza WRX N12 of Rocky Reyneke and Christo Ackerman. The car has received a new Prodrive engine and gearbox, expected to deliver another ½ second/kilometer.
Rocky explained the changes: "The car is identical ? the twin ? of Nicholas' car, except Nicholas has the FIA refueling system, which we don't have. The bits that count are all in place. We've even changed the wiring harness, as the one we used last year didn?t work with the centre differential: it split the power 65% to the rear and 35% to the front, so the Impreza was a bit like driving an old rear-wheel drive Skyline. I've even got new Sabelt seats from First Race, so we'll be more comfortable as well!"
"This year is going to be a hell of a challenge. I don't have to prove anything to anyone. The investment I've made can be likened to a golfer: no matter how bad his handicap, he still wants the best clubs".