World Rally Championship (WRC) has been the top-tier of rally racing since 1973, with diverse events run on mixed surfaces like tarmac and gravel (Acropolis Rally) or even snow and ice (Monte Carlo Rally). For many motoring enthusiasts, the word “rally” immediately conjures images of a Subaru Impreza WRX with cigarette sponsor State Express 555 livery. How is it possible that a car that last competed in WRC in 2008 (that’s 14 years ago) is still synonymous with rallying?
Numbers don’t lie. The Subaru World Rally Team won the WRC manufacturers’ championship three times and the drivers’ championship three times. The Impreza won a record 46 rallies, nearly a quarter of the races it entered! Subaru used rally racing to showcase its revolutionary all-wheel drive system, and success in WRC racing is credited with increasing car sales, especially the Impreza WRX. Adding to Subaru’s status are great drivers like Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz, Petter Solberg and Richard Burns who all experienced racing glory with the brand. By 2008 Subaru announced they had reached all their sporting objectives in rallying and withdrew the Subaru World Rally Team from competition, although the global economic downturn was also a factor in this decision.
Constructors’ Championships: 3 (1995, 1996, 1997)
Drivers’ Championships: 3 (1995, 2001, 2003)
There’s more to this than numbers. Subaru is nowhere near the top of the WRC all-time wins list; Citroen has 102 race wins to Subaru’s 47. And Lancia’s 10 WRC Championships dwarf Subaru’s 3 back-to-back-to-back titles.
Until 2010, regulations required WRC cars to be based on regular production cars, and auto manufacturers had to build at least 2,500 models for the public to buy (preventing ‘one-offs’). To attract more manufacturers, the rules also allowed companies like Peugeot, Citroen and Skoda to moodily production cars for competition by adding turbochargers and all-wheel drive, even though their road-going cars had neither. But Subaru was different.
Anyone could walk into a Subaru dealership and buy an Impreza WRX that was 90% of the race car. With a turbocharged 2.0L engine, symmetrical all-wheel drive, 4-wheel independent suspension plus the hood scoop and spoiler. In the early 2000’s, WRXs could beat sports cars that cost double the Subaru’s price tag…especially if weather conditions turned slippery.
That’s what made the Subaru Impreza WRX so special. The 2000 to 2007 Impreza WRX (GD chassis) were the last Subarus built for the sole purpose of competition, only sold to the public for meeting racing homologation rules. There is a certain pride in driving a rally car for the road. That’s why even today the Subaru blue and gold livery is as iconic as its flat-four rumble.