Team Subaru privateer Nicholas Ryan is all but assured of clinching the 2006 SA Production Car Rally Championship in Tzaneen when the final round of the Sasol SA Rally Championship gets underway.
The Bosal Total Subaru Impreza WRX STi driver has a 25-point lead over his only rival, Johnny Gemmell, who must beat the full entry, win the rally outright AND have Nicholas fail to finish for the Brakpan driver to lose the coveted title.
Co-driver Schalk van Heerden clinched the Production Car and class N4 Co-driver's championships on the Subaru Cape Rally last month, leaving the 26-year-old IT engineer to concentrate on helping his driver to the top accolade.
Nicholas needs one point, or 20th place to clinch the crown irrespective of Gemmell's result, but has set his sights on tying up the class N4 driver's title as well.
"I want the number 60 on my window next year", says Nicholas. "And a podium will be a nice way to end the year. We'll be going flat out from the start and need a 2nd in class if Johnny wins on the day".
Nicholas has 35 points to his rival's 31, with another 9 up for grabs in the class N4 title chase.
"We've done the usual preparation, plus a bit extra and done some testing. I like the Tzaneen event because it's quite twisty and tight, which suits my driving style. I expect Visser (du Plessis) and Fernando (Rueda) to be strong contenders."
Nicholas and Schalk will join the likes of Schalk Burger and Vito Bonafede as former Subaru champions, while veteran Leon Botha is a class N4 Subaru champion and even his great rival Johnny Gemmell is a double rally winner for Subaru.
Visser du Plessis and Dave Lewkowicz are 4th on the production car points log but could push their Kreepy Krauly Subaru Impreza WRX STi to the runner up position, as they are only 6 points adrift of Gemmell.
"I want to finish 2nd overall to give Subaru a 1-2 finish in the production car championship", says Visser. "I perform well under pressure and have to drive really hard because then I stay focused. I like the tight and more technical nature of the stages on the Tzaneen Rally. If it's wet, then I'll drive to finish and see who survives".
Lola and Megan Verlaque go into the final round of the championship buoyed by their best finish of the year on the Subaru Cape Rally a month ago, ending inside the top 10 in treacherously wet conditions.
"We'll be trying for another top 10 finish to end our year on a high note", said Megan. "We'll have to try a bit harder though and this year it will be awesome with safety notes. We?re very excited about this rally as we?ll have some friends from Zimbabwe on the event as well." added the younger Rally Chick, who made her driving debut on the last round of the Northern Regions championship.
Salie du Toit and Gert van Rensburg return to the fray with a new Team Total Subaru Impreza WRX STi after his previous car was destroyed in a fiery accident on the Osram Rally. Salie started the year on a high with 2nd in class on the Tour Natal Rally in early March but the youngster crashed twice thereafter which brought their season to a premature end.
"We started to build a new regional car for the 2007 season a while ago and it is still touch and go if it will be ready in time for the Tzaneen Rally. Quite a few parts are still on their way from the UK", Salie explained.
Salie and Gert scored their maiden win this year in their Team Total Subaru Impreza WRX STi on the SCC East Rand Rally and followed that up with another win on the Hencom HMC Rally, both part of the Total Northern Regions Rally Championship.
Salie will use the Tzaneen Rally to shake down his new Impreza and benchmark it against established competition. "There is a lot of set up work to do on a brand new car so this rally will be like an extended test session".
"I want to win the Northern Regions Championship next year, and I believe the Subaru Impreza is perfectly suited to help me reach my goal".
Anton Wannenburg and Tania Joubert, one of a new breed of talented youngsters coming through the ranks, is taking his brightly liveried Team Smartcovers Subaru Impreza WRX STi to the Tzaneen Rally.
The Pretoria photographer is one of only two teams to finish every rally in the Northern Regions series this year, starting out with his Impreza GT and graduating to an Impreza WRX STi later in the season.
The Impreza WRX STi elevated Anton and Tania to a career best 2nd overall on the PMC Rally. "We're looking forward to the Tzaneen Rally", said Anton. "It's one thing to do well in the regional series, but we need to measure ourselves at national level to judge our progress. If nothing else, the Smartcovers Impreza will be the most visible car in the field".
Teresita van Gaalen, Managing Director of Subaru South Africa says: "It's a very exciting time for everyone in the Subaru family. Rally championships are hard work and very special. The Subaru attributes of superior road holding, reliability and performance manifest themselves in the toughest motorsport discipline on the planet ? rallying, where Subaru has demonstrated its unique qualities time and again and garnered a host of championships across the globe".
"We salute Nicholas and Schalk for their commitment to the Subaru cause and while there can only be one champion, everyone competing in a Subaru is a winner in their own right".