I see the red taillights blazing, I hear the distinctive thrum from the flat-four boxer engine, I feel the whoosh of wind as Petter Solberg deftly maneuvers his Subaru Impreza WRC2008 around a tight hairpin by jabbing at his car’s handbrake.
The mud now spraying in every direction, the spectators are not deterred in the least. All eyes are focused on the bright blue hatchback dancing towards the horizon, making the zigzagging road that lies ahead magically straighten out. The Norwegian driver snatches second gear, then third, then fourth, as he rounds a sweeping right turn bend to disappear out of sight over a rise.
This is five seconds in the life of one of this sport’s most enduring and respected machines: The Subaru Impreza WRC car.
For 2008, the Subaru World Rally Team was faced with the daunting task of reeling in the Citroen C4 WRC and the Ford Focus RS WRC cars, with the aims of regaining the coveted Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ Championship titles. Without even a moment’s hesitation, Solberg at a press conference ahead of the 2008 season stated that his sole aim is to win the Championships for Subaru.
It reminds me of an interview in 2007 where Solberg was asked how important rallying with Subaru is to him. His response went something like this: First Subaru rallying, family, and then everything else. This man’s blood is Subaru blue.
In 2008, Solberg was partnered with Phil Mills, while Aussie Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot piloted the second Impreza WRC car. The 2008 season with its 15 rounds was to prove a difficult year for all teams and competitors.
Not only was Subaru demanding much success from its mighty impressive Impreza WRC2007, but it was also spending large sums of money (and, more importantly, man hours) into developing a new rally car, the WRC2008, to reflect the Japanese motor manufacturers’ new-generation Impreza.
Producing sound results and showcasing the team’s championship winning potential, Solberg and Atkinson proved there was life yet in the ageing sedan-shaped Impreza WRC car earlier in 2008. When the new war machine was debuted at WRC Rally Greece, it was immediately quick out of the box, recording a podium result in its competitive debut.
The Subaru World Rally Team was once again on course to resume battle with Citroen and Ford.
With bucketloads of determination, motivation and talent, the two SWRT drivers, Solberg and Atkinson, once again brought pride to the Japanese motor manufacturer in 2008 with a string of impressive results in their all-new Impreza WRC2008.
The potential for rally-winning success was great in 2008, and after a strong showing in the closing rounds of the WRC season, it became more evident the Subaru Imprezas were fast gaining lost ground to their rivals. Unfortunately, an international economic downturn saw Subaru dramatically withdraw from the World Rally Championship on Dec. 16, only a few days after it had confirmed its entry for the 2009 season.
This abrupt end concluded what has been a hugely successful 19-years in top-flight rallying, because through rallying, Subaru has made itself a household name.
With figurative big shoes to fill, the Impreza did not disappoint. In fact, were it not for a windscreen demisting problem on the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland (just two weeks after the Legacy’s win in New Zealand), Ari Vatanen would most certainly have stormed to the finish well ahead of his rivals. The demisting problem cost him dearly, though, resulting in him finishing in second place overall.
It did not take the Subaru World Rally Team long to notch up its maiden win with the Impreza; on the Rally Greece in 1994, the Impreza 555 defeated all other teams to take first place. Continual development and fine-tuning saw the Impreza become a true force to be reckoned with, a serious contender for the world championship.
One of the highlights of that season, and for rallying, was Prodrive’s experimentation with an automated gear change system, which was the forerunner of the now-essential steering wheel-mounted paddles.
In a ding-dong battle, it was McRae who triumphed to lift the WRC Drivers’ Championship trophy, and Subaru romped home with the Manufacturers’ Championship title.
The ‘98 WRC season saw an updated WRC97 compete. As in 1996/1997, Subaru pumped its resources into their 1999 model, which is considered to be the start of the technological era in the WRC. Prodrive and Subaru engineers worked tirelessly on the interaction and also focused on the adjustable parameters of the automated controlled systems in the car.
As such, it was the year in which the paddle gear shifters were used in competition, as well as the debut of fly-by-wire throttle technology in rallying, thanks to Subaru and Prodrive.
The Impreza adopted the four-door body shell and closely resembled the STI road car version. This new body shell design proved to be a whopping 250 percent stiffer than the WRC2000s, with the result that Colin McRae was able to steer his car to his second WRC Drivers’ Championship title.
The updates, and momentum, was carried through for 2002, while 2003 saw the SWRT dominate the WRC. Petter Solberg claimed the WRC Drivers’ Championship in the Impreza WRC2003.
Updated and facelifted for 2007, the Impreza WRC2007 was to be the last sedan-shaped WRC car, ending a long heritage of four-door sedans doing battle around the world’s toughest roads.
Fans of the brand, team, and charismatic drivers will have to suffice with reruns of pre-2009 events to satisfy their Subaru lust. Or they can just reread this article.