The 2020 season will be the 20th season of the Subaru Motorsport USA engagement in the National Rally Championship, since their debut in 2001, and spite some interruptions. It’s time then to celebrate their initiative, and we will do it as we know best, by reviewing the aero of the cars they have competed with, while we review the history of the team, in a series of posts starting with the present article.
The Japanese manufacturer Fuji Heavy Industries undertook an internationalization strategy of the Subaru company in 1988. One of the first steps was the creation of Subaru Tecnica International (STI), the motorsports division. One year later, STI joined forces with the successful British Prodrive team, to create Subaru Rally Team Europe (which became Subaru World Rally Team in 1993). The goal was to increase the presence of Subaru cars in the international markets, by participating in the World Rally Championship. And it worked…. except in one of Subaru’s strongest markets, the United States. The problem was that few car enthusiasts in the U.S. – also meaning few prospective car buyers – had ever heard of rallying. Subaru needed to fix things and here it is how they did it, since 1998.
M.Lovell/M.Kidd, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, 2001, Prescott Forest Pro Rally 2001, 1st – picture by Lars Gange
The North America Subaru importer decided that they needed to take part in the SCCA ProRally Championship (the US National Rally Championship in that years). Together with Prodrive, the decision was to set-up a new team with an experienced partner in this Championship and, if possible with Subaru cars. And they chose Vermont SportsCar.
There is nobody better than the own Vermont SportsCar itself to explain how it all started, as it is described in their website: “Vermont SportsCar was founded in 1988, by co-driver and rally car builder Lance Smith. At first, the focus was restoring exotic sports cars but Lance Smith’s passion was rally and his focus quickly shifted to that of a rally car preparation company. Smith’s reputation for high-quality craftsmanship and attention to detail in the restoration business became hallmarks of Vermont SportsCar’s rally-car construction business and the company quickly formed a reputation for building the best prepared rally cars in North America….The first cars Vermont SportsCar built were VW Golfs, for the SCCA PRO Rally series–Lance says there are still a few competing. Then we did Toyota Celicas after that, Mitsubishi Eclipses, Galant VR4s, and then on to Subarus.”
It was January 2001 when Vermont SportsCar owner Lance Smith confirmed his company had forged an alliance with Prodrive Ltd, to enter two Subaru Imprezas in all 10 SCCA ProRally Championship events of 2001 season. For the first event of the season, the cars that Prodrive provided were two Subaru Imprezas WRX STI RA, inscribed as group N cars. The RA corresponding to Race Altered, a variant of the Impreza model whose main characteristic was to be equipped extremely spared to save weight. Even though they were group N cars, they gave Lovell/Turvey an impressive second place at the Sno*’Drift ProRally, with Scheible/Maxwell in fourth.
Since the second event of the year, the Cherokee Trails International Pro Rally, Prodrive brought two Imprezas WRX STI’00, labeled 00 as the car was launched in October 2000, but it was an Impreza version S7 (not to be confused with the Impreza WRC00 (S6) that took part in the WRC in the year 2000). One car was inscribed into the Open Class, for Lovell/Turvey, and the other as a Group N for Scheible/Maxwell. The car driven by Lovell looked like one of the Subaru Impreza S7 WRC ’01 participating in the WRC, as it had the same aero package. With this car, they got their first wins in the Championship, at the Oregon Trail Pro Rally, the Rim of the World Pro Rally and the Susquehannock Trail Pro Rally 2001.
M.Lovell/S.Tarvey, Subaru Impreza WRX STI 2001 – picture by Lars Gange
After such an impressive start to the season, and with Lovell/Tarvey leading the Championship, the team replaced their car again by mid-season. A new Impreza WRX 2002 (S8) was first aligned at the Main Forest Pro Rally, again into Open class entry for Mark Lovell and Steve Turvey. The WRC aero package was abandoned, and the new car included the Prodrive WRX Aero Package, also known as the UK300 package. This is the package that was originally included in the UK300 Impreza Special Edition car, a special edition of the Impreza WRX that Subaru, Prodrive and the Impreza WRC car designer, Peter Stevens created in May 2001 to celebrate British expertise in World Rallying technology. Only 300 units of this car were produced, just for the UK market, and its original brochure can still be found in the subaru-impreza.org webpage. Later on, Prodrive USA, the North American division of the British company commercialized this package in the US.
M.Lovell/S.Turvey, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, 2001 – picture by Lars Gange
The new aero package of the car presented two main differences with respect to the WRX road car. At the front of the car a modified front air dam (with a grille to protect the radiator from leaves and stones) and a black front lip spoiler designed to reduce the amount of air flowing under the car (with a Prodrive sticker on in the picture below). Due to the lower airflow, airspeed was increased and, subsequently, the pressure under the car was reduced (by Bernoulli). The result was an increase in downforce generation that helped reduce the lift generated by the car.
Subaru Impreza UK300 rear wing – picture from the original brochure of this car by subaru-impreza.org
At the rear, the package included a raised rear wing (with two triangular supports extended over the top of the wing, and a Prodrive side badge), which was more effective than the original rear wing in terms of downforce generation. According to this article that the magazine TopSpeed published in 2001 about the car, at 100 mph (160 km/h) the reduction in total lift was estimated to be around 25%. This means more grip, which is always welcome.
M.Lovell/M.Kidd, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, 2001, Prescott Forest Pro Rally 2001, 1st – picture by Lars Gange
With the new car, Lovell obtained three new victories at the Ojibwe Forest Pro Rally, the Prescott Forest Pro Rally and the Lake Superior Pro Rally, ensuring the driver’s title in only the team’s first year in the Championship. Also, the duo Scheible/Maxwell became Group N Champion.
For the 2002 season, Ramana Langeman joined the team, with Mike Kidd as co-driver, replacing Schable. The same cars as in 2001 were used in the season-opener Sno*Drift Pro Rally, while for the second event Lovell was offered an all-new, re-engineered Impreza WRX 2002. It was a car derived from the WRX road car, without any of the aero modifications used in 2001, and with the original rear spoiler of the WRX.
M.Lovell/S.Turvey, Subaru Impreza WRX 2002 – picture by Lars Gange
With this car they completed the rest of the 2002 season, winning at the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb and the Maine Forest Pro Rally. In the Championship, Lovell and Turvey finished in the second position, behind the Impreza WRX of David Higgins and Daniel Barritt.
For 2003, again in the second event of the season (the Rim of the World Pro Rally), the team entered new cars: the brand new Impreza WRX 2003, with a very close visual resemblance to their World Rally Championship sister cars Subaru Impreza S9 WRC ’03 (the main external difference were the STi rear wing instead of the WRC rear wing, which included vertical fins, and the side mirrors), and increased power thanks to the SCCA ProRally Championship rules that enabled fully developed Open Class SCCA rally cars. Since the third event of the season, Lovell was co-driven by Roger Freeman, who replaced Steve Turvey.
M.Lovell/R.Freeman, Subaru Impreza WRX 2003, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Pro Rally 2003, 1st – picture by Lars Gange
Tragically, only two events later, at the Oregon Trail Rally 2003, Lovell and Freeman died after a fatal accident in the SS1. It was a very sad moment for the team and for the families, who created The Mark Lovell and Roger Freeman Children’s Fund in their memories. More info about them and the Foundation can be found here. Also, to honor their memories, the Impreza cars taking part in the next WRC event, the Rally Deutschland 2003, added their names into the rear wing endplates, as shown in the picture below, under the US Subaru logo.
P.Solberg/P.Mills, Subaru Impreza S9 WRC’03 , Rally Deutschland 2003, 8th – picture by Petr Lusk – ewrc-results.com
The Finn duo Pasi Hagström/Marko Taskinen joined the team some months later, giving the team the satisfaction of winning at the Wild West International Pro Rally, while Lageman/Orr ended the season with three consecutive runner-up finishes. But, at the end of 2003, Subaru of America announced their withdrawal from the Championship. The reason behind this decision was the lack of manufacturer competition within the Open Class category, after Hyundai (2002) and Mitsubishi (2003) had already left the Championship.
Fortunately, Vermont SportsCars decided to continue and they aligned a Production GT class Subaru Impreza WRX 03 (equivalent to a Group N in the WRC) for Travis Pastrana and Christian Edström in some selected events in 2004. Pastrana was already a famous motocross and X-Games star, so it was a good way to attract attention to the team and to the Championship. The duo participated in three events, which allowed them to get in contact with the world of rallying.
T.Pastrana/B.Edström, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Rim of the World Rally 2004, 4th – picture by Lars Gange
For 2005, the team offered Pastrana to participate in seven events of the season, teaming up with another rising-star duo, Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino, and with Red Bull as the main sponsor. The car was again an Impreza WRX 03 (S9) Production class (group N) with specific modifications allowed by the Championship rules. With it, Block and Pastrana got their first podium positions, finishing the Championship in 4th and 5th positions, respectively.
T.Pastrana/B.Edström, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Pikes Peak Hillclimb Rally 2005, 7th – picture by Lars Gange
Also, Ken Block was awarded as the 2005 Rally America Rookie of the Year.
K.Block/A.Gelsomino, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Ojibwe Forests Rally 2005, retired – picture by Jerry Winker
After a two-years absence, Subaru decided to return to the Championship, and signed a multi-year contract with Vermont SportsCar to manage the Subaru Rally Team USA program, with access to factory resources. This contract has been extended over the years and it is still valid, ensuring the role of Vermont SportsCar as the team’s exclusive technical and manufacturing partner. Since then, the team has been involved not only in the Rally America National Championship, but also in the Global Rallycross Championship, the Canadian Rally Championship and occasionally in the X Games and in the World Rally Championship.
T.Pastrana/B.Edström, 2006 Subaru WRX STI – picture by Subaru Motorsports USA
Vermont SportsCar prepared an Open Class 2006 Subaru WRX STI, known internally as the VT7r, which was aligned in 2006 and 2007. The main difference with respect to the PWRC version of the car, in terms of aero parts, was the addition of an (in our opinion wrongly named) roof spoiler. It was a kind of air deviator on the rear part of the roof, similar to that used in Lancia Stratos and the Fiat 131 Abarth, to help channel air into the rear wing, to increase its efficiency (as shown in the picture below).
The car allowed both drivers to get their first win in 2006, at the 100 Acre Wood Pro Rally (Block/Gelsomino) and at the Rim Of The World Pro Rally (Pastrana/Edström). After a total of five wins out of nine events, the team reached a 1-2 in the final classification of Rally America 2016, with Pastrana obtaining his first title ahead of Block.
Such good results enabled the team to take one step forward, by giving its drivers the chance to get international experience. The first step was to send them to the reconnaissances of the 2006 Rally México, which would contribute to developing their ability at creating pace notes. This skill was not required in the Rally America National Championship, where events supplied identical stage notes to all competitors.
K.Block/A.Gelsomino, 2006 Subaru WRX STI, Ojibwe Forests Rally, retired – picture by Vermont SportsCar
By the end of 2006, the Subaru Rally Team USA announced the participation of Pastrana in some selected World Rally Championship events in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The team’s intent was to gain valuable experience at several international events and position itself for greater competitiveness for the upcoming seasons. To face this new challenge, Derek Dauncey (ex-Mitsubishi and future Hoonigan Team Director) joined the team to help spearhead the WRC efforts, while the expert WRC co-driver Jakke Honkanen and US rally legend John Buffum also joined the team to help in the pace notes learning process.
T.Pastrana, B.Edström, 2006 Subaru WRX STI, Susquehannock Trail Performance Pro Rally, 2nd – picture by Vermont SportsCar
Pastrana/Edström and Block/Gelsomino debuted in the WRC at the Rally México 2007, with a Subaru Impreza STi N12. They finished in 15th (5th in the Production car WRC) and 28th position (16th in PWRC), respectively. Pastrana/Edström also took part in Rally Argentina and Wales Rally GB, while Block/Gelsomino, thanks to the increased support from sponsor Monster Energy Drink also participated at the Rally New Zealand 2007. Also, in 2007 Pastrana/Edström obtained their second title in the National Championship after winning four events, while Block/Gelsomino were third with two wins.
T.Pastrana/B.Edström, Subaru Impreza STi N12, Rally México 2007, 15th (5th PWRC) – picture by Vermont SportsCar
For 2008, Derek Ringer (ex-Colin McRae codriver) joined Travis Pastrana as co-driver replacing Christian Edström, and they both raced in the National Championship as well as two WRC events, Argentina and Acropolis, while Block/Gelsomino repeated the experience in New Zealand. In these events, they were all driving the Subaru Impreza STi N12 again, while in the National Championship they continued to drive the 2006 Subaru WRX STI until June when two units of the 2008 Subaru WRX STI Open Class Rally Car were ready to debut at the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally. But this will be the subject of a future post.