Subaru Brings Back Legendary Blue-and-Gold Livery but You Won’t See It in WRC
Impreza rally cars will use these colors in the U.S. Rally Championship and in Rallycrossby Michael Fira, on
The last time Subaru shone brightly in the World Rally Championship, a scarcely-believable 16 years ago to be precise, Petter Solberg drove a blob-eye Impreza covered in blue and the golden logo of the company to take the world championship home to Norway. Now, those colors are back, but only to Rally America and various Rallycross events that Subaru competes in.
It’s been a long time coming but it’s finally happening: Subaru of America announced that the works racing outfit, Subaru Motorsports will compete in 2019 proudly displaying the classic Subaru World Rally Team colors. The design has been tweaked to keep up with the changes that occurred to the Subaru badge itself but, otherwise, it’s the same livery that was rocked by the GC and GD Imprezas of old.
The colors are back and they come with a new driver lineup too
Since their retirement from the WRC 11 years ago, Subaru has been quietly dominating the U.S. rally scene and, for a while, the rallycross ranks too for good measure. They’ve been running bespoke Impreza WRX STI models that, particularly in the case of the rally cars, aren’t eligible to race almost anywhere else besides Rally America.
Since 2001, the works Subaru team has won the title in the U.S. Rally Championship (organized under various guises) a record 13 times, David Higgins bagging six titles in a row between 2011 and 2016.
Now, this success run will again be associated with the famous Subaru livery. "These colors are part of our brand’s history, and beloved by our enthusiasts,” said Alan Bethke, Vice President of Marketing for Subaru of America in a press release. "For a generation of rally fans, Subaru is synonymous with blue cars, gold wheels and the iconic star cluster. This new design pays tribute to that heritage while looking ahead to future success under the Subaru Motorsports name."
The new color scheme debuted officially at the Detroit Auto Show and it features a WR Blue Pearl base color and the now-magnified Subaru star cluster in yellow. The logo of the Japanese company covers now the front and rear doors as well as extending on the B-pillar and up onto the top corner of the C-pillar. Subaru says that, by zooming in its logo, the ’Comet’ motif now looks bolder.
The livery was presented on the automaker’s Rallycross-spec Impreza WRX STI but it will debut in a stage rally first, the 100 Acre Wood Rally in Missouri on March 15-16, on the Open Class WRX STI rally car. This all-terrain beast sports a turbocharged boxer four-cylinder worth about 330 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque with the American Rally Association restrictors in place. It barely weighs 2,900 pounds and the power reaches all four wheels through a 6-speed SADEV dog-engagement gearbox.
Subaru had a winning season last year as well, clinching the overall ARA title.
Things didn’t go flawlessly in Rallycross Americas (ARX) where Subaru was only able to finish on the podium. That’s why the team has recruited 2018 ARX Series champion Scott Speed for the upcoming season. The American will partner with former Subaru World Rally Team driver Chris Atkinson and Patrick Sandell, another WRC ex-pat. It’s unclear whether Subaru will shake its stage rally driver lineup for 2019, although David Higgins should continue with the team.
A brief history of the rejuvenated livery
Subaru first showed up in blue and gold all the way back in 1993. At the time, the Prodrive-operated team ran the Group A-spec Legacy RS in the WRC. The livery came about after Subaru struck a sponsorship deal with the 555 tobacco company. Thus, the cars were painted in a dark shade of blue with the yellow 555 logo on the sides and hood. Ari Vatanen and Colin McRae were the team’s full-season drivers, this being McRae’s first full WRC season. The Scotsman notched up the first win in the new colors at the very last outing for the aging Legacy RS, that year’s New Zealand Rally. Thereafter, the team switched to the Group A GC Impreza.
Two years later, in 1995, Subaru achieved its first and only double in the WRC winning both the driver's and the constructor's title.
McRae won two rallies, again in New Zealand and on ’home ground’ at the RAC Rally Great Britain. The British round was actually the eighth and final round of the championship and, by winning, he beat team-mate Carlos Sainz by five points to bag his first and, incredibly, only world champion crown in over a decade of WRC participation. Sainz won three rallies himself but was hurt by the fact that he did not score on three occasions to McRae’s two.
The Subaru World Rally Team was back at the top of the rostrum in 1996, this time only claiming the manufacturer’s crown, however. McRae won three times out but also retired three times and the driver’s title went the way of Finland’s Tommi Makinen who won five of the nine rounds that year aboard his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 3.
One more manufacturer’s title was on the cards for Subaru and, believe it or not, it was to be in 1997, Subaru ticking an unlikely hattrick. 1997 was also the first year that McRae was partnered by Nicky Grist instead of Derek Ringer.
Subaru won eight times in a mammoth 14-round season, McRae himself pushing to five overall wins. Sadly, the Scotsman also retired a record six times and ultimately lost the title by one point to arch-rival Tommi Makinen who won on four occasions but only retired four times.
It would be another four years before Subaru tasted championship glory again. The team’s luck turned around in the early noughties and, armed with the bug-eye Impreza, Richard Burns became world champion in the year 2001. In true Keke Rosberg fashion, Burns only scored one victory that year, in New Zealand, but consistent points-bagging finishes secured his one and only title ahead of team-mate McRae who took home three rally wins but also retired on five occasions.
Finally, it was Norway’s Petter Solberg who delivered the goods for Subaru. The 2003 season was especially hard fought and you can argue that it was Subaru’s sweetest championship campaign as the blue-and-gold GD Impreza WRC successfully fended off the otherwise unstoppable Sebastien Loeb and his Citroen, be it by one championship point at the end.
From then on, Subaru was never close to taking either of the titles. Citroen’s might kept on growing, at the same pace with Loeb’s and the French steamroller proved too much for Solber, the Imprezas, and Prodrive.
At the end of the 2008 season, Subaru announced its retirement from the WRC citing the poor state of the global economy as one of the reasons as well as the company's belief that it had achieved its sporting and marketing objectives in its 15-year run in the series.
The last WRC-spec Impreza, based on the GE chassis, didn’t even run in the classic livery.
While we wait for the modern Imprezas to take to the stages with their new-old colors, it’s worth pointing out that, during its 15-year career in the WRC, the Impreza has achieved a total of 46 rally wins, tying it with the Lancia Delta for most rally wins by a car ever. Obviously, in the case of most of these wins, the Impreza displayed the iconic blue and gold colors.
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