The Subaru Impreza: A rich rallying heritage
Subaru World Rally Team
The Subaru World Rally Team will be fondly remembered as the Japanese marques factory squad in the WRC. The initial team was founded way back in 1980; but most fans will remember the “blue and yellow” glory days of the 1990s, after Prodrive took control of Subaru’s works rally operations in 1989.
The Subaru team utilised “all-wheel drive technology” in the World Rally Championship and achieved incredible success by winning the Manufacturers’ Championship in 1995, 1996, 1997 and the Drivers’ Championship in 1995, 2001 and 2003. The victories help establish Subaru as a performance brand and in doing so the Subaru Impreza WRX achieved cult status amongst car enthusiasts.
Subaru entered rallying with the humble Subaru Leone at the Safari Rally in 1980. The team achieved achieved its best result with Possum Bourne taking third at the 1987 Rally New Zealand. Subaru then entered its first Prodrive developed car, the Group A Subaru Legacy RS in the 1990 season, piloted by Finnish driver Markku Alén. Over the next two years the team enjoyed numerous top five finishes on the world stage and Colin McRae also won the British Rally Championship in 1991 and 1992.
For the 1993 World Rally Championship season, the Subaru team debuted its now distinctive blue and yellow color scheme along with a new title sponsor, 555. Ari Vatanen and Colin McRae remained the primary drivers. McRae took the first win for Subaru, at the eighth event of the season, Rally New Zealand, the last outing for the Group A Subaru Legacy rally cars. At the next event, Rally Finland, Subaru debuted their new Prodrive developed Group A Impreza rally car, known as the Impreza 555.
The Impreza Era – World Champions
In 1994, Carlos Sainz took the Impreza 555 to its first win at the Acropolis Rally in Greece with the Spainiard finishing second in the drivers championship and Subaru also second in the manufacturers.
For the 1995 season, the primary drivers remained Sainz in the number 5 car and McRae in the number 4 car. Sainz’s first place finish in Catalunya left he and McRae tied for points going into the last event of the season, the RAC Rally Great Britain.McRae won out, taking first place at his home event, clinching his first and only Driver’s Championship, a first for the Subaru team. Sainz finished close behind in second place, giving him second in the Championship, and third driver Richard Burns finished in third place, giving the team a second consecutive 1–2–3 finish. Between McRae and Sainz the team managed to win five of the season’s eight rallies for Subaru, winning the team its first Constructors Championship.At the end of the season, Sainz left Subaru to join Ford World Rallye Sport.
Sales of Impreza road cars exploded, with drivers relishing the grip, power and prestige of the World Championship winning brand.
Championship winning form continued for Subaru from 1996-2003 with the team winning the manufactures championship again in 1996 and 1997. The late Richard Burns and co-driver Robert Reid won the drivers championship in 2001. Petter Solberg fought a tough battle with Sebastian Loeb in 2003 and secured Subaru’s last drivers championship by a single point.
Solberg continued to lead the team through the difficult seasons of 2004-2008 before the team withdrew from competition on 16 December 2008.
There have been seven versions of the WRX so far, with the mid to late nineties versions being called modern classics by the motoring media. The STI (Subaru Tecnica International) versions of the Impreza WRX were launched from 1994 originally only in the Japanese market. These upgraded versions of the WRX have proved extremely popular with collectors due to the factory tuned engines, suspensions and transmissions.
The Imprezas are still considered by many to be the most desireable cars available, for their unique combination of performance, practicality and Rally heritage. An offer of Subaru cars, the early Imprezas have created a standard that the future models will have to live up to. If the track record demonstrates anything, its that success on the rally stages, leads to success on the showroom floor.