For most young South Africans from once they’ve caught a rugby ball they dream of pulling on the Springbok jersey but for Cape Town based Ashley Haigh Smith, from once he sat behind the wheel of his fathers bucky he has being dreaming of putting numbers on the side of a rally car with the glorious WRC logo next to them.
Ashley has being rallying in local regional and national events for almost 10 years now which is remarkable as he only turns 24 this year. He has had a lot of success from his early years in a Toyota Yaris, winning his class on the national series to now showing phenomenal speed in his current R2 Ford Fiesta. However, the local success is fantastic but Ashley and his family run AHS Racing team have set their sights on proving their pace over seas and now thanks to the support of Regent Insurance and Redbull Za the opportunity has finally come to make this happen.
The team have being looking into several different routes and have now finally settled on a plan. The decision has being made to tackle the remaining rounds of the hotly contested Peugeot 208 R2 Cup series in France. The series is a one make championship, which this year is contested by over 30 crews all in identical Peugeot 208 R2 Rally Cars. This choice has being a cleverly thought out process as the team feel trying to aim straight for a WRC campaign would not be a feasible move at present. The difference in pace between the local national series to the WRC is quite substantial. A decision was made to find a top over seas series where Ashley and Niall could gauge their speed against top young drivers and fine tone their skills, especially on tarmac, before stepping up to rallying’s premier series. The team studied where current rally greats such as Sebastien Ogier, Sebastien Loeb and Thierry Neuville toned their skills before stepping up to the premier series and all have spent time in their early careers on the French roads. France has a well known history for producing some of the fastest rally drivers in the world and the team feel this is the perfect place for Ashley and his Irish Co Driver Niall Burns to set about building up their speed and consistency before stepping up to a WRC campaign.
The remaining events of this years Peugeot series consist of three gravel rallies and two tarmac events which the team have already started to prepare for. The team have enlisted top French motorsport preparation team Pitstop Motorsport to prepare and service the car on these events and feel their knowledge will be a key factor in their pursuit of proving their pace against Europe’s best. Another factor which made this route the most promising was the announcement of the rule changes regarding next years South African national series.
The new rules stipulate that only S1600 cars, which the Peugeot car would be classed as, will be the premier cars in next years series and will be fighting for the overall title, replacing the current four wheel drive cars, which makes it a fantastic time and opportunity to team up with a new car and potentially bring a new manufacturer name to the South African national series which the team feel could greatly benefit the series going forward. The Peugeot 208 R2 car has a proven track record of top results over seas and AHS Racing feel it could be the right car to fight for an overall title in next years series, which the team will compete for along with over seas events next year.
Ashley and Niall will continue to compete on as many South African national events as they can along with their over seas campaign this season and hope to secure good results and learn as much as possible towards an even bigger campaign next season. The team are really looking forward to their debut in the French series at the end of June, especially Ashley as his hero Sebastien Loeb spent his early career fine tuning his skills here, so it is fitting that the team start their highway to the top where one their heroes and arguably the worlds best rally driver also started his.