Is the 1997 Subaru Impreza WRC the most recognisable rally car of all time?
It wasn’t the most successful, but thanks to the popularity of the man who drove it and its subsequent appearance in the first Colin McRae Rally game, the first Impreza World Rally Car and its iconic blue and yellow ‘555’ livery was many fans’ first introduction to rallying.
In 1997 the World Rally Championship regulations underwent a huge shake-up. Manufacturer interest in Group A production cars had waned due to the expense and complication of homologation, so the World Rally Car rules eliminated this by stipulating a manufacturer could base its competition car on a volume-selling model.
The new rules attracted the likes of Seat, Hyundai and Peugeot but while Subaru stuck with its Impreza, the greater technical freedoms made it a much wilder machine. The stiffer two-door bodyshell was introduced with massive wings and guards – styled by McLaren F1 designer Peter Stephens – allowed the use of better suspension geometry and wider tracks.
It was an immediate success, winning the first three rallies of the year in the varying conditions of Monte Carlo, Sweden and Kenya and added seven more wins by year’s end to make it by far the most successful car of 1997.
McRae recovered froma crash-ridden 1996 to be 1997’s most successful driver with five wins, however a disastrous mid-year run of four straight retirements allowed Tommi Makinen to secure his second straight title by just a single point.
Ironically, Makinen would dominate the early World Rally Car era in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution that stuck doggedly to the Group A regulations; it would take the arrival of the Peugeot 206 WRC to alter the balance of power.