The stunning rendition of the 2002 WRX you see before you is a prototype of what the next Subaru WRC car may look like. Based on Subarus past success on the global racing stage, the newest WRX may look a lot worse to the competition. Racing has traditionally served as numerous purposes to major vehicle manufacturers. Through competition, car makers have been able to explore new technologies and ideas, and most importantly, it all boils down to being able to better sell cars. The fire of competition brands the winners and losers and makes a statement about the quality of a manufacturers product, technology, engineering, and ultimately its image. Considering what is at stake, and the required resources for success, car makers are very selective about which race series they choose to participate in.
There are two significant race series that enjoy a global television audience; F1 and WRC. Formula One represents insane expenditure to have engineering armies and mechanics develop the most impressive single place racing machinery on the globe. In return, the major manufacturers get sales floor bragging rights for participation, and their stickers pasted to the sides of vehicles that bear no likeness to anything they offer in a showroom (prestigious, though it is, the high price is still subject to debate). The World Rally Championship is the second most popular race series in the world, and even uses production vehicles as the basis for the race vehicles. This correlation between race and production engineering is what draws manufacturers to the series looking to make the race on Sunday, sell on Monday equation justify their involvement and expenditure.
The World Rally Championship is a 14-round race series that touches almost every continent on the globe (except North America) and awards points for vehicles that finish in the top six positions. The competitors compete on various forms of terrain, whether its gravel, tarmac, ice, snow, or clay. The toll on the machine, driver, and co-driver can be extraordinary. Driver and manufacturer crowns are hotly contested with two cars driven by points nominated drivers jockeying for space on the podium. Races are three-day events, broken up into single day legs and special stages. The accumulated lowest total time in the special stages during the three days wins the race.
Subarus assault on the World Rally scene began in 1989 when, with the introduction of the Legacy RS, AWD development began in earnest on the car that could conquer the difficult race series. The Japanese manufacturers had consulted Prodrive of the UK to do an evaluation of the new chassis to determine its potential in the rally series. Prodrive responded with a large volume of print, a detailed analysis, and a strong willingness to work with the new car during its development. A partnership was formed, and Prodrive began operations that involved car preparation, support, and development.
During the early years of the Subaru-Prodrive collaborative effort, results improved slowly, but the cars progress kept the team upbeat about their future. The team engineers and mechanics gained experienced while adding talented, young drivers like Britains Colin McRae in 1992. The Prodrive-prepared Legacy chassis evolved into one of the better handling machines on the WRC at the time, and as engine output improved, so did Subarus chances at podium finishes. McRae gave Subaru a British rally title in 92, and later won a round of the WRC Championship outright in New Zealand in 93.
In 1993, Subaru launched its Impreza, and Prodrive took the opportunity to build upon the lessons learned with the Legacy program. The now legendary Impreza 555 finished a Second overall in its first rallyFinlands immortal 1,000 Lakes event in 1993. Victories became more frequent after former Series Champion Carlos Sainz joined the team with wins coming in the Acropolis, New Zealand, and RAC Rallies. Meanwhile, New Zealands Possom Bourne cleaned up on the Asian Pacific Rally winning the Rally of Malaysia and the challenging Hong Kong/ Beijing Rally.
Finally, in 1995, with the years of teething far behind, the Subaru-Prodrive effort broke through to enjoy a dominating year. Driver Colin McCrae became the youngest World Rally Champion ever, and Subaru won its first of three consecutive manufacturers championships. Concluding the year with a bang, Subaru grabbed all three podium places during the series final two events, after wins in Portugal, Monte Carlo, and New Zealand.
In 1997, a rule change allowed for the introduction of a World Rally car, and Subaru was first on the scene. The new World Rally car regulations were created to allow manufacturers who did not produce an AWD, turbo platform to compete by converting one of its existing two-wheel drive, N/A chassis to this format. Such rules brought in European manufacturers such as Peugeot and now Hyundai which didnt offer AWD to the public. Subaru enjoyed victory on eight of the seasons 14 courses, en route to its third consecutive manufacturers title. In the last two years, the series has become even more competitive, with additional car makers doubling their efforts in pursuit of the championship. With drivers Richard Burns and Juha Kankkunen, Subaru has now won every rally on the series circuit at one time or another, including the rigorous Safari Rally, the longest rally of the series.
However, keeping the car competitive means employing technology, such as drive by wire systems and other electronic technologies that govern the differentials action and suspension. These new developments do not increase the cars mechanical capabilities, but do allow tuning the limit of the drivers control and inputs, which lead to quicker, more consistent stage times. Microprocessors also control the active suspension employed by many WRC cars that sense road conditions, driving habits and calibrates the suspension accordingly to cover the terrain as quickly as possible.
The genesis of these technologies appears on the race car, which is based upon a production car, and hopefully the evolutions of driver, engine, and suspension control will trickle down to future production models. Subaru views its successful racing exploits as testimony to the design and engineering superiority of its chassis, the boxer engine, and all-wheel-drive layout. Subaru hopes that the consumer is astute enough to make the same correlation.