Last month we ran a poll asking our WRC.com readers to tell us what their favourite Subaru Impreza rally car is. The votes have now been counted and the winner is – the Impreza WRC2003.
The car that took Petter Solberg to his one and only FIA World Rally Championship title received 37% of the votes, just edging out the Impreza WRC97 that scored 35%. Next up was the GpA Impreza 555 with 16% of the votes, the Impreza WRC2001 with 8% and the Impreza WRC2008 with 5% of the votes.
To get the lowdown on why the Impreza WRC2003 is such a rallying icon, WRC.com spoke to Prodrive’s David Lapworth, the man that was the Subaru World Rally Team’s technical director at the height of the car’s success.
The Impreza WRC2008 owed much of its success to its predecessors, according to Lapworth. “In terms of the car’s DNA, it was still largely based on the 2000 Impreza,” he says. “The fundamental layout was the same but we put a big effort into improving some of the basics like the centre of gravity, weight distribution and weight reduction.”
It is therefore hardly surprising that the Impreza WRC2003 was so competitive and reliable. After all, Prodrive had been continually developing the mechanical side of the car – the engine, gearbox and suspension – for at least three seasons before the WRC2003 even broke cover.
But Lapworth recalls one particular feature about the car that made it so fast on the WRC stages in 2003. “It was very clear the direction that Petter wanted to go with the car. He wanted it a lot looser that the traditional Colin McRae, Richard Burns, Juha Kankkunen kind of set up. But he also wanted aerodynamic stability,” Lapworth explains.
“We therefore made a big push to improve the stability of the car and we developed the big rear wing that was first seen on the WRC2003. It featured vertical winglets to improve downforce.”
The high-speed stability that came with Prodrive’s new rear wing configuration proved to be more impressive than Lapworth and his team expected and it gave Solberg the confidence he needed to win four rallies during the 2003 season.
Lapworth says: “That rear wing was a big step for Petter. It transformed the car by enabling him to have something loose and responsive in the twisty stuff but a car that wasn’t too scary in the high-speed stuff. We were all highly delighted with the effect it had.”
Solberg won in Cyprus, Australia, Corsica and Great Britain with the Impreza WRC2003 and his points haul that season was enough to beat Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb to the FIA World Rally Championship title by a single point.
Lapworth has fond memories of that season, particularly events in Corsica where Solberg battled to victory after crashing on the shakedown stage two days earlier.
“That was a bad way to start the rally but we knew that things could only get better,” Lapworth says. “Petter’s back was against the wall but it took the pressure off and enabled him to do something special with the Impreza WRC2003. It put him in the right frame of mind and gave him the belief that he could win it.”