In the summer of 1991, Ivo Mitkov made one of the most difficult decisions of his life. He was preparing for an important rallycross event, a pivotal race for the 20-year-old Bulgarian driver, when he received the phone call. It was his girlfriend on the other end, and though he was very happy to hear from her, Ivo instantly picked up that something was wrong. Perhaps there was a hesitation in her voice, the initial pleasantries burdened by the possible presence of a more important topic of conversation, likely something unpleasant. She was on vacation with her parents in America. This vacation was a particularly long one, and naturally, they missed each other. His mind raced with possibilities: Was somebody ill? Had the vacation been extended yet again? What could possibly be troubling her? Cautiously, he asked if there was something wrong, expecting the worst. The words he heard following the silence tuned his world upside down. Her parents had decided to stay in America permanently; they would not be returning to Bulgaria, ever.
Growing up, Ivo was surrounded by cars and racing—as the child of two professional drivers, there was simply no escaping it. Previous to his birth, Ivo's parents raced together in Group N rally, as driver and navigator. When Ivo was born, Bulgarian law required his parents to race separately. In such a dangerous profession, it was understandable for the child's best interest of course. And as Ivo explained it, "The state didn't want to take care of more orphans than they had to." Ivo started racing karts at a very young age, and his first notable accomplishment was second place in the 100cc national championship at the age of eight, followed immediately the next year with first place. As he grew older, the trajectory of his racing career continued its upward trend. As he grew into a teenager, he started working as a mechanic on his mother's team—staying true to the belief that in order to be successful as a driver, you must first completely understand the car.
Ivo experienced little difficulty adapting to the cockpit of a rally car, transitioning from the open wheel karts he had grown up driving. He started taking his mother's competition cars on test drives to fulfill his duties as a mechanic, and as he grew more accustomed to the dynamics of the vehicles, he took them to open track days. By the age of 19, he was competing with his own cars, racing for his mother's team, and found that he was more than just competitive. He went on to win numerous hillclimb events and local rallycrosses. Having competed at the professional level for a year, the national championship was not an impossible dream for Ivo, and he was determined to claim his rightful place on the podium that season. At that very moment, however, all thoughts of racing had been pushed to the back of his mind.
As Ivo held the receiver to his ear, his mind raced—his thoughts struggled to grasp onto reality. Becoming successful by pursuing a passion is what many consider to be the ideal life, and Ivo was definitely on his way to doing just that. He had some important races coming up and needed to keep his mind clear. He acknowledged the change of plans to his girlfriend and hung up the phone. This was definitely going to require some digestion. As he walked away from the phone, he instinctively grabbed the keys to his car. He drove aimlessly, organizing his thoughts. As he drove, all possible scenarios were considered, priorities checked, and decisions set. In 1991 at the age of 20, Ivo emigrated to the U.S.
Old habits die hard, so following his arrival in the States, Ivo immediately found himself back in a fast car, this time a Volkswagen. He knew very few people in this strange new country, but he quickly found that even here, individuals with similar interests tend to enjoy each other's company. In no time, he was part of an organized automotive enthusiasts collective that called itself the Renner Performance Group. Through this alliance of automotive enthusiasts Ivo met a certain man, a man with slightly more disposable income than he had. This man had just purchased a brand-new Subaru. It was a new model for 1998—or rather a new trim level of the familiar Impreza model, but something about the 2.5 RS made it so much more appealing than the typical Impreza. Ivo saw this car quite often and planned to purchase one for himself—until his friend blew the engine just four years later. Without a place to store the car, Ivo's friend was forced to sell it. Naturally, Ivo jumped on the chance to own the chassis he had dreamt of.
The GC8 sat for a few years, during which time Ivo considered many powerplant options. He had no intention of installing anything naturally aspirated into the car, and at this time the only viable option was the turbocharged EJ20 of the new "bugeye" WRX. Ivo decided to see what Subaru would have to offer in the coming years. In 2004, Subaru introduced the STI model to North America and Ivo opened a savings account. One year later, Subaru made a few minor changes to the STI and Ivo purchased a brand-new '05 WRX STI, a formidable car in it's own right—but Ivo did the unthinkable. He drove the car to his shop and tore it apart, piece by piece. The new car he had just purchased was destined to be no more than a sacrifice, an offering to the monster he was building.
Let's fast-forward to March 2014, when I had the pleasure of meeting Ivo in person. We were both competing at Chuckwalla Raceway for the second round of Redline Time Attack, in very different classes, of course. In the company of many cars that were built purely for function with limited aesthetic qualities, this Impreza definitely stood out. Now, this comparison shouldn't be interpreted as something negative—many very good-looking cars compete in the series—but rather it's a testament to how complete this particular car is. Everything from the broad shoulder lines courtesy of the Aerosim widebody kit slathered in WRC Blue to the Advan RS wheels wrapped in Nitto NT01s to the slender spokes framing AP Racing brakes reminds you of the fact that this car is a full build in every possible way. The suspension is simple and effective, built around Stance coilovers, fortified by Whiteline sway bars—efficiently keeping all four wheels firmly pressed against the pavement, even with 568 all-wheel horsepower instantly available. The engine can hardly be considered original, with many of the vital components having been changed out for stronger, lighter pieces—built by Ivo himself and tuned by Yimi Sports.
As the competition day ended and Ivo sat in his trailer, I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the man within the helmet and racing suit. The man who essentially traded his racing career at its prime for something intangible—something many people never experience and that none can prove the existence of. The up-and-coming rally driver, the hillclimb racer on a winning streak left it all for the company of a solitary person in another country. This man was born to be the Bulgarian national champion, following in the footsteps of his parents—but instead he chose to become the champion of his home, a hero to his (now) wife and two sons. As a fellow racing enthusiast, I had to ask him if he could do it all again, if he could return to being 20 years old, preparing for his next race as a prodigy—knowing what he knows now, 24 years later with literally another lifetime under his belt—would I be having this conversation with the 1991 Bulgarian national champion? He responded with a resounding "No," paused for a moment, and elaborated that he has absolutely no regrets. He married the girl of his dreams and with her he started a family and provides for them by doing what he loves. He then tilted his head toward the rear of the trailer where the Impreza was strapped down and cracked a smile, "And I got my race car."
1998 Subaru Impreza RS
Owner Ivo Mitkov
Location Sherman Oaks, CA
Occupation Owner/Tech, Renner Motorsports
Power 568whp and 535 lb-ft of torque
Engine EJ257 swap with Supertech 1mm oversized valves, valve springs, retainers; ARP head studs; Cosworth S2 camshafts, head gasket, connecting rods; port and polish; Darton 100mm sleeves; CP pistons; Renner Motorsports air intake, up-pipe, downpipe, intercooler piping, oil cooler; Gruppe-S exhaust manifold; Garrett GTX30/76R turbocharger; TiAL blow-off valve; Turbosmart wastegate; SPAL radiator fans; tuned by Yimi Sport
Footwork & Chassis Stance three-way coilovers; Whiteline 24mm front, 27mm rear sway bars; Pierce Motorsports rollcage
Brakes 14" front, 13.75" rear AP Racing big brakes with six-piston front, four-piston rear calipers
Wheels & Tires 18x10" +25 Yokohama Advan Racing RS wheels; 275/30 R18 Nitto NT01 tires
Exterior Aerosim WRC widebody kit; Renner Motorsport rear diffuser; Prodrive WRC rear spoiler; Seibon carbon-fiber doors, hood, trunk; WRC blue paint
Interior Sparco Evo seats, seat brackets, harness; Prodrive edition steering wheel, shift knob
Thanks You Nitto Tire, Yimi Sport, WestEnd Alignment, Aerosim Research, Seibon, all the boys at RennerMotorsport
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