by Chris Leone
Images via Subaru of America (1); Subaru Motorsport (2, 3); Alex Wong/American Rally Association (4)
Longtime Subaru fans finally got what they’ve been clamoring for over the past few years last week: a return to the signature blue and gold that defined rally for a generation in the 1990s and 2000s. The 2019 Subaru Motorsports livery harkens back to the glory days of Colin McRae, Richard Burns, and Petter Solberg, who each delivered the Subaru World Rally Team a World Driver’s Championship in those colors.
Subaru’s motorsports history across the globe is a rich one, and extends far beyond any individual discipline. Here’s a look at some of the series and moments that have defined the brand:
World Rally Championship
Of course, Subaru’s WRC exploits are among its best-known and most successful. After limited schedules throughout much of the 1980s, Subaru World Rally Team as most fans know it came to be in the late 1980s and early 1990s in partnership with the legendary British outfit Prodrive.
Carrying the legendary 555 colors, McRae delivered the team its first driver’s title in 1995. He and teammate Carlos Sainz led Subaru’s charge to its first of three consecutive manufacturer’s titles that very same season, while Kenneth Eriksson teamed with McRae for the next two. McRae departed the team before the 1999 season, making way for Burns, who would finish second, second, and first in the driver’s standings before leaving himself after his 2001 championship.
For the remainder of its existence, the Subaru squad was led by a young Norwegian named Petter Solberg. After impressing early on in limited action with M-Sport, Subaru was able to lure Solberg with the promise of a full-time drive. He would drive in every WRC event for SWRT from Tour de Corse in 2000 through the team’s dissolution at the end of the 2008 season, totaling 13 victories and 35 podiums, plus the 2003 championship.
On the Tarmac
You may not think of Subaru as a sports car brand, but that’s got more to do with its rally teams being dominant than a lack of results on the tarmac. In fact, its successes in GT racing have been comparable to its loose surface results over the years.
Subaru WRX STIs are frequent class winners in the annual Nurburgring 24-Hour Race, including three of the last four years. The brand’s 2018 SP-3T class victory was its fifth in the iconic event, and came after the team led more than half of the race. The team finished 13 laps clear of its closest competitor in class.
In addition, Subarus have competed in Super GT since 2005, starting with the Impreza WRX STI, shifting to the Legacy in 2009, and moving once again to the BRZ in 2012. The team was fourth in the GT300 championship in both 2011 and 2013; the R&D Sport team has taken numerous event victories in the GT300 class, including multiple wins in the Suzuka 1000km race.
Subaru has also enjoyed numerous successes making lap records at courses like the Nurburgring and Isle of Man TT course. In 2010, Tommi Makinen conquered the Nordschleife in a prototype Impreza WRX STI in 7:55 without having ever driven the track before, setting an unofficial production sedan lap record. Mark Higgins set lap records on the latter in both 2011 and 2016, and has frequently been tapped by the brand for some of its larger performance driving stunts, including a run down an Olympic bobsled run in Switzerland in 2017.
Recent Years in America
Subarus have always been popular cars for stage rally, and the brand’s rally exploits have taken the largest profile in the sport over the past 20 years. From 2000 to 2004, Prodrive also ran Subaru’s factory rally team in the United States, with Mark Lovell delivering the brand’s first SCCA ProRally title in 2001 before his untimely passing two years later.
In 2006, Vermont SportsCar took over the Subaru factory backing in America and has since won driver’s titles in every season it has entered except for 2010. After first bringing Travis Pastrana into the sport in 2004, the team backed the action sports star to his first of four consecutive championships in 2006. The team would later attract such names as Ken Block, David Higgins, and even McRae himself, whose rollover at X Games Los Angeles in 2006 enabled Pastrana to win the first gold medal in rallying at the iconic action sports event.
When Global Rallycross debuted in 2011, Subaru Rally Team USA was there as well, with Higgins and Dave Mirra both making appearances in the inaugural season. The team has been a force in rallycross ever since, with Sverre Isachsen earning the team’s first victory at DirtFish Rally School in 2014.
That brings us to 2019, where Subaru Motorsports will compete in both the American Rally Association and Americas Rallycross. Four-time GRC and ARX champion Scott Speed joins full-timers Patrik Sandell and Chris Atkinson on the rallycross side of the team, while Higgins is expected to be partnered by a revolving cast of drivers in the team’s rally program.