After the success of the Subaru Impreza since its launching in 1992, Fuji Heavy Industries decided, as early as in January 1997, that it was time for preparing a new version of the car. Takeshi Ito, Subaru Technica International (STI) Chief Engineer and project sub-leader of the first generation, was named project leader for the new car, which would be known, internally, as the New Age Impreza.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Rally of New Zealand 2001, 1st
The goal was to create an even better car to obtain even better results both in sales and competition. The result was a more compact car, with a lower center of gravity, due to the low height of the boxer engine. It was also longer than the previous version, but with greater overhangs on both ends, which meant additional inertia and an emphasized tendency to understeer.
The new car was slightly wider than the old one, and it included more prominent wheel arches, due to wider track. It had a completely redesigned body which provided a much stronger and more rigid platform but also increased its weight.
To give the new car an XXI century image, new ovoidal headlamps were included, which resulted to be the most controversial point of the new car since its launch. What it took place on August 23rd, 2000 in Japan and on October 17th, 2000 in Europe (at the Birmingham NEC Motor Show). The new road car adopted the name of WRX worldwide. As in previous versions, an STI version was prepared from a complete engineering redesign in all mechanical areas of the WRX. In any case, all Subaru fans still recognize all of them as the bug-eye version of the car.
On the engine side, the size of the turbo was increased, by 10%, and so the size of the intercooler, by 12%. Also, the angle of the intercooler relative to the bonnet was changed. These changes, along with a more aerodynamic shape of the new bonnet, contributed to an increase of the mass of outside airflow through the intercooler. Thus, intercooler cooling capacity increased from 6.9Kw to 13.2Kw (14.1Kw for the STI version). The internal cooling flow was totally reviewed, although no new air inlets were added to the bonnet or front bumper. Also, transmission and suspension modifications contributed to making it even more effective.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Rally Catalunya 2001, 7th – picture by Petr Fitz – eWRC.cz
The rally car was based on the STI version, for what Prodrive had to prepare the new rally car from the 4-door base (the older was based on the 2-door version), which was an advantage in terms of weight balance and easier servicing. The new car took the name of S7, as it was the seventh version of the Impreza since its introduction in rallying back in 1993. Ovoidal lamp cover was removed and the original headlamp was replaced by two bulbs over a black headlight, which was significantly changed the image of the car.
Again Technical Manager David Lapworth supervised the design process, which was led by Christian Loriaux as Chief Rally Engineer, before his move to Ford in early 2002.
Aerodynamics were the object of a deep review. Regarding the air circulation inside the car, two main modifications were implemented: the increase in the size of the radiator and the reposition of the intercooler, which was moved from a top position in the road versions to a front position in the rally car, to get fresher air. The big air inlet between the bonnet and the front bumper was devoted to the intercooler (identified in the pictures with an STi sticker), while the radiator, located below the intercooler, received the air from the front bumper central air intake.
To remove hot air, the vents in both sides of the bonnet in the old Impreza were replaced by a unique, long vent, located ahead of the hood scoop. Originally designed for cooling down the intercooler in the road version, the hood scoop in the rally car was used as an air intake for the engine.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Rally Catalunya 2001, 7th
Brake cooling intakes were moved to the space between the fog lamps (usually covered in the rally car) and the central air intake, under the shape of a vertical rectangle (such as in the S6). And one slot was added on both sides of the bumper, ahead of the front wheels, to vent hot air from the engine bay. The slot design and orientation were optimal to minimize the interaction with the external main airflow on both sides of the car.
Side skirts had similar size as in the S6 version. The new rear wing was reduced in height and was allocated at the very end of the boot lid. In fact, half of the lower plate (wicker) overhung, as can be seen in the rally car pictures.
T.Mäkinen/K.Lindström, Subaru Impreza S8 WRC02, Rallye Great Britain 2002, 4th – picture by Petr Fitz – eWRC.cz
The goal of moving the rear wing backward was to separate it as much as possible from the body, to make it the most effective. As a result, the new car showed higher rear stability at high speed.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Preseason test, Col De Mens, France, December 2000 – extracted from dalimil1 video
Extensive tests of the new car were carried out in December 2000 in France, led by Burns. The new team line-up, after Kankkunen departure, included Markko Märtin and Petter Solberg as joint number two team members, as well as Japanese Toshihiro Arai for some selected rallies.
P.Solberg/P.Mills, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Rallye Monte Carlo 2001, ret.
The debut took place in Rally Montecarlo 2001, but ignition coil problems prevented Märtin from reaching the start of the first stage, while Solberg was forced to retire after hitting a bank and rolling in stage 5. After a too conservative start, Burns had time to show the value of the new car by finishing second in the long St.Pierre-Entrevaux stage. He ended the first day in the fourth position, but with only three cylinders working in his engine, so the team decided to withdraw it from the event.
The team developed an extensive test program in preparation for Rally Sweden. But the results didn’t arrive, as Burns lost more than 12 minutes stuck in a snowbank in stage 2, while Märtin lost 5′ when hitting another bank in stage 4. Even so, Burns set the fastest time in stage 3, as well as in the five stages of the last day, but finished far from point positions, while Solberg was sixth, obtaining the first point for the new car.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Rally of Portugal 2001, 4th
In Portugal, after one of the most dump rallies ever, Burns finally got his first points of the year, by finishing 4th, after winning two stages. But the car still seemed far from his competitors, in terms of performance. Yet mechanical problems kept Subaru drivers far from points in Rally Catalunya. After such a disappointing start of the season, with Burns with only 3 points and really far from Championship leader Mäkinen (24 points) the team carried out again an extensive series of tests, to improve the reliability and performance of the Impreza WRC2001. Small engine modifications were done, including a revised airbox.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Rally Cyprus 2001, 2nd – picture from rally-live.com
The tests allowed the team to improve the car, as Burns finished second in Argentina, and could have even fought for victory if he hadn’t lost around 20 seconds when he spun in stage 3. Solberg ended 5th after a close fight with Mäkinen, while Arai was 8th, in spite of his lack of experience in South America. In Cyprus, the only modification for the Impreza was the whitening of the rear part of the roof, in an attempt to more effectively reflect the light and reduce the burning heat inside the car. Burns repeated the second position in Cyprus, again behind Colin Mcrae, after leading during most of the second day. Also, Arai drove superbly to end the rally in the fourth position, while Solberg had to retire after his car caught on fire after an accident at the end of the first day.
Rally Acropolis was the third rally in a row in highly rough terrain, and team expectations were very high, after two significant performances in Argentina and Cyprus. Burns confirmed the expectations, as he fought in a close battle with Mcrae and Sainz for victory until the second stage of the last day when he lost any chance after going off the road and losing 3 minutes. His bad luck turned into Solberg’s fortune, as he finished in the second position, his best result ever in the Championship. Märtin set his first scratch in the WRC in Inohori stage but was forced into retiring after a puncture and suspension failure.
There were similar high expectations for the Safari Rally, especially after more than 4.000 km of tests were developed to improve Impreza’s reliability. But results never came, as Burns and Arai were forced to retire on the first day, due to suspension damage. Solberg showed he was well adapted to Kenyan routes especially on the second day, when he set the fastest time in 3 out of 5 stages, ending the day in the third position. But he broke a wheel on Sunday and was also forced to retire, leaving the team with no points in the African rally. Burns’s distance with leaders was still of 25 points after 8 rallies, and his expectations for the title started to fade.
M.Märtin/M.Park, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Rally Finland 2001, 5th. – picture by Petr Fitz – eWRC.cz
Rally Finland brought new points to the team, as Burns finished second after brilliantly battling with the dominant Peugeots of Grönholm and Rovanperä. Also, Märtin completed a great race, ending in fifth position (his top position in the season) after setting his second scratch time in the WRC. Surely his win in his home event, the EOS Rally Estonia some weeks before contributed to such a good result. And Solberg was 7th, after a learning experience in his only third participation in Finland.
After such a long series of ups and downs, finally, the first win for the Impreza WRC 2001 came in New Zealand. With a revised airbox slightly lighter that gave a little more power, Burns drove superbly and managed to get advantage of his starting positions in each leg, to get his tenth win in the WRC. Such a result repositioned him in the Championship, by reducing the gap with Mäkinen and Mcrae to just 9 points, with 4 rallies to go. Petter Solberg finished 7th, after winning a close battle with Makinen (8th), while Arai was 14th.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Rally of New Zealand 2001, 1st
The tarmac stages of Sanremo and Corsica did not suit Subaru drivers. Burns crashed out of the Sanremo on the day’s first stage, while Märtin also crashed out on the final day. Only Solberg finished, in the 9th position, after setting his first fastest time on tarmac. In Corsica, Burns also crashed in the first day, but luckily escaped from retirement and managed to finish fourth, while his rivals finished again out of point positions. Solberg and Märtin completed a superb weekend, by finishing fifth and sixth, in a rally that would be remembered by the first and only win obtained by Jesus Puras and Marc Martí in a Citroën Xsara WRC.
A brilliant drive in Australia allowed the British driver to finish second and, most importantly, to rejoin Mäkinen and Mcrae at the top of the classification, leaving all possibilities open for the next Rally GB. And there, a third place was enough for the British driver to ensure his first and only world title after Mäkinen and Mcrae were forced to retire. Also, Burns was almost out when the engine refused to start on the second day. Fortunately, the reason was two failing spark plugs that could be replaced by the driver, allowing him to complete the rally and getting a well-deserved title, after two years being second. Burns is still the only driver to become World Champion after winning just one rally in the season. Subaru ended up in the fourth position in the Manufacturer’s championship, probably due to the short experience of Solberg and Märtin.
The shock of the year was the announcement of the transfer of Burns to Peugeot, one month before the end of the season. After a hard dispute between both teams that ended up in the court, the British driver was finally allowed to leave. Märtin also left the team to join Ford, while Arai returned to Group N competition, always at the wheel of an Impreza. Tommi Mäkinen joined the team as number one driver, teaming up with Petter Solberg.
The season 2002 brought also multiple changes in the team structure: David Richards having left to BAR F1 team, David Lapworth assumed the double role of Team Director and Technical Manager, and ex-Toyota, ex-Ralliart George Donaldson was named Team Manager. Also, after a long career at Prodrive, Christian Loriaux accepted the offer from Malcolm Wilson to join M-Sport, to start working on the Ford Focus RS WRC03, and was replaced by Belgian Pierre-Yves Génon, who was promoted to Chief Rally Engineer.
T.Mäkinen/K.Lindström, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Rallye Monte Carlo 2002, 1st – picture by Petr Fitz – eWRC.cz
With a new Impreza homologation planned for March, the team started the season in Rallye Montecarlo with the same car as in the previous season. And the season could not start better for the newly recruited, as Mäkinen won in Monte Carlo, after a long battle with rising star Sebastian Loeb the first two days. The tight battle ended up when the French driver was penalized for an illegal tire replacement. The resolution of Citroën’s appeal did not arrive until one week later, but in the end, Mäkinen obtained his fourth win in succession in Monte Carlo and his first win with Subaru at his first opportunity.
In the Tour de Corse, the new evolution of the car was introduced, which was identified as S8. Although the main changes affected the engine bay, also a new splitter lip was introduced, which slightly improved aerodynamics by reducing the amount of air flowing under the car, and, at the same time improved reliability as the new lip was more resilient when cars cut corners. Again the car showed his potential in tarmac, as Mäkinen was fighting against the Peugeot squad when he had to retire because of an accident, and Solberg finished fifth in a close battle with the Ford drivers, after losing some time the first day.
T.Mäkinen/K.Lindström, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Tour de Corse 2002, 3rd
Gravel stages of Rally Cyprus saw another good Subaru team performance, with Mäkinen third and Solberg fourth, in a rally where ducting near the headlamps and some extra fans were added to keep the drivers cool, as the roof-mounted air vent had to be closed on this event to prevent clouds of dust from entering the cockpit. The Subaru drivers set the fastest time in 11 of the 19 stages run in Cyprus.
They both confirmed the excellent performance of the car on gravel in Argentina when Mäkinen set the fastest time in 5 stages before rolling out the car, and Solberg finished in an excellent second position, partially benefited from the disqualification of the winner (Burns), due to a technical infringement.
P.Solberg/P.Mills, Subaru Impreza S8 WRC02, Rally Sanremo 2002, 3rd – picture by Zdeněk Havlíček – eWRC.cz
After some disappointing outings in Greece and Kenya (as in 2001), the team got another good performance in Finland, with Solberg finishing third and Mäkinen sixth. Solberg was third again in Sanremo, and they were third and fourth at the start of the final leg in New Zealand. Transmission and engine failure prevented the Norwegian from finishing the rally, while Tommi ensured another podium position for the team. Solberg would be third then in Australia, before strongly ending up the year by getting his first win in WRC in Rally GB, where he had to fight hard with ex-teammate Markko Märtin for the victory. The new driver’s generation was starting to show their potential in the WRC, while a certain Jari Matti Latvala (17 years young) was making his first appearance in the WRC, at the wheel of a Ford Focus WRC.
P.Solberg/P.Mills, Subaru Impreza S8 WRC02, Rally Great Britain 2002, 1st – picture by Petr Fitz – eWRC.cz
With his win, Solberg ended the Championship in a promising second position, while the team ended third in the Manufacturer’s Championship.
Team efforts during the second part of the season were partially devoted to the design and development of the new car for 2003, based on the new Impreza model, which we will review it in a future post. But the Impreza S7 and S8 will always be linked to the name of his drivers, especially present and future World Champions such as Burns, Mäkinen and Solberg, as well as promising star Markko Märtin and best-ever Japanese rally driver Toshihiro Arai.
P.Solberg/P.Mills, Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01, Rallye Monte Carlo 2002, 6th – picture by Petr Fitz – eWRC.cz