15 Jul 08
In May this year Subaru's latest evolution of the Impreza World Rally Car made its keenly anticipated competitive debut on the Rally of Greece. Now, six weeks after launch, wrc.com can give you a unique insight into the performance of the groundbreaking new Impreza. We can do this because we've actually been in it.
Wrc.com was invited to sample the car at this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed; the annual British motorsport festival which brings together the biggest selection of motor racing machinery, teams and drivers from around the world.
The Festival centres around a hillclimb in the grounds of Goodwood House in West Sussex. But, as this wasn't really the best showcase for WRC machinery, a few years ago the organisers decided to create a 2.9km loose surface rally stage in some adjacent woodland. And to make sure it was a good one, they got 1983 World Rally Champion Hannu Mikkola to help design it.
The Prodrive run Subaru World Rally Team are Festival of Speed regulars and this year brought along the WRC2008 and a driver line up of Petter Solberg, Chris Atkinson and the man credited with most of the development testing of the new car, Markko Martin.
Martin drove full time for the Subaru factory team in 2001, but rejoined in January 2008 as test driver and was instrumental in getting the car ready for its Acropolis debut. Subaru's decision to speed up the car's introduction by effectively testing in public on the toughest rally of the year was a risky one, but it paid off. Solberg and Atkinson both took stage wins, while second place for Solberg matched the best result he had managed in 2006 or 2007.
The WRC2008 had its second outing a couple of weeks later in Turkey. And while the overall results (sixth and 13th) weren't quite up to the Greek level, the team were pleased nonetheless with the lessons learned and returned to their Banbury HQ with laptops bursting with data and six weeks to further analyse, test and develop the car before Finland.
Which brings us to mid-July, midway through the WRC summer break, and back to Goodwood where on a dry and bright Friday your intrepid wrc.com correspondent is preparing to tackle the forest stage with Markko Martin. I wanted to find out how the very latest World Rally Car felt from the inside, and especially how it was able to get off the start line so quickly. Sure, launch control isn't a new phenomenon in the WRC, but I'd never seen how it actually worked.
"How was your lunch?" asked a concerned looking Subaru technician as I was about to get in. From the pocket of his overalls he pulled out a plastic carrier bag and gave it to me. "If you're going to throw up, do it in this. If you make a mess of my car, you're cleaning it up."