South African driver Carl Van As has just returned from his third Gymkhana Grid event, where he and his custom-built Subaru Impreza WRX STI took up the reigns against aces like Petter Solberg and Ken Block. We asked Carl everything there is to know about Gymkhana racing.
Carl, for those of us who don’t really know much about Gymkhana, how would you describe it?
It’s basically showing off with your car but at speed, and in a competitive way. You race your opponent through a tight and twisty obstacle course which forces you to slide your car. It’s a completely unique form of motorsport, it’s incredibly rewarding to take part in, and it’s a great show for the spectators.
What was your story prior to Gymkhana grid?
I went up through the ranks of motor racing, starting out in karting and competing in national series here in South Africa. Later I moved on to more auto cross style competitions and even joined our local Gymkhana series here in South Africa. The series here is very small so I was looking to do more. As luck would have it, the Gymkhana Grid event came to our country in 2017 and they were looking for local talent to compete. Ever since then Gymkhana grid has been my main event of the year. A few months before the second event I had a motorbike accident and it wasn’t until the week before the event that I was able to drive a manual car again. That was one of the reasons I was so happy to be back in Poland because although I did compete last year, it was an extremely tough competition for me, still recovering from injuries.
Your car doesn’t look like an average Subaru WRX. What have you modified on it, and what makes it a good Gymkhana car?
It started out as a car that I used to drive on a daily basis. In fact, it still is road legal. If I do local events in it, I drive it there. The car has basically been made a lot lighter, it has quite a big turbo, upgraded suspension and a shorter racing style steering rack. Originally the car had more of a track set-up, so it was made to use all of the grip all the time – but for a Gymkhana event you don’t want all the grid, all the time. So, we played around with the differential to give it some more sideways action. In Gymkhana terms it’s a simple car. I can’t compete with the fire-breathing rally cross machines of the Solberg family. They have even more power, sequential gearboxes and an anti-lag system. But I’m not a professional so I’m extremely proud of what I have.
Gymkhana grid in Carnival City is your neck of the woods, but Warsaw is not. What brought you all the way here?
Earlier this year there was a Grid qualifying event in South Africa and the winner of the event was handed a golden ticket to Gymkhana Grid in Poland, so all the logistics of the trip were paid for. I just needed to be there. Or so I thought. I had very limited time to prepare my car for the event. It wasn’t even ready for the qualifier, so I borrowed a car from a friend. The day before it was to be shipped to Europe my engine broke. The boost we run on these cars is so high that over the time I’ve had this car I’ve replaced about seven engines. So I had one day to do a rebuild. We managed it but I didn’t have time to test it so before loading it into the container so I did a bunch of donuts in the shipyard. The port authorities weren’t all that pleased with me.
How did you team up with Motul?
I’ve always been using Motul. Partly because it’s the OEM product for my Subaru but also because it’s just a really good product. I met with the South African team at my first Grid and we’ve been building our relationship since. I’ve been running 300V in all of my engines and even though they occasionally blow up, that’s just because of the excessive boost we run through them. In Gymkhana events our engines get really hot because we make them work hard, but they don’t really get a lot of air running through the radiators. The 300V means I don’t have to worry about that.