August 20, 2008
Fifteen years ago earlier this month, the late Colin McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer achieved a world first for Subaru on the Rally of New Zealand.
The pair in what was the final outing for a works Legacy RS, won the World Championship event held from August 5-8.
After a tense battle over the four days the somewhat battered Legacy, the fore runner to the now long line of successful Impreza rally cars, finished 27 seconds in front of Francois Delecour with Didier Auriol another two seconds back in third.
Since then Subaru has won 47 WRC events and taken three drivers championships – McRae in 1995, Richard Burns 2001 and Petter Solberg in 2003. The team also won the manufacturer’s title in 1996 and 1997.
But The Rally of New Zealand 15 years ago was a turning point for Subaru and the then still youthful McRae. It was the first WRC win for both. This year’s Repco Rally of New Zealand will include some celebrations of Subaru’s initial WRC success and McRae’s feats here on the opposite side of the world from his Scottish home. McRae was killed last year in a helicopter accident near his home.
1993 was the first of McRae’s three consecutive wins here. His exuberant tail out driving style made him a firm favourite with rally fans.
But it was a more calculating approach and smoother driving style that brought him and Subaru that first victory.
On the early stages of the event he only held fifth place, but on the 45 kms long Motu stage in the eastern Bay of Plenty he leapt straight into the lead, using smooth lines through the hundreds of corners on the tortuous twisty stage and the Leagcy’s ability to turn into those corners well thanks to its low centre of gravity.
Auriol snatched the lead twice more during the second and third days, before McRae got ahead for good.
Auriol and Carlos Sainz won more individual stages, but McRae was more consistent, racking up more second fastest times over the four days than anybody else.
Subaru had been competing in the WRC for more than a decade before that first win, initially with a team run from Japan, which had snared some podium places with the admittedly under powered Leone models. Possum Bourne was third in New Zealand in 1987.
From 1990 the English company Prodrive was contracted by Subaru Japan to run the WRC campaign with the then new Legacy RS model, with the same basic mechanical package as today’s Impreza 2008 WRC – a two litre turbocharged boxer engine and All Wheel Drive transmission.
With the experience gained with the Legacy RS, many of the mechanical components were transferred to the lighter and more nimble Impreza. It was developed into the most dominant rally car of the second half of the 1990s.
As we look forward to this year’s Rally of New Zealand and the first appearance outside Europe of the latest Impreza rally car, we can also look back on 15 years of achievements in the sport at the highest level and the special place New Zealand has in Subaru’s history.