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Subaru World Rally Championship cars

Broadcast dates : 18th July 2004
22nd July 2004


It was in 1995 that Subaru, the once largely unknown Japanese manufacturer, won the World Rally Championship, with the mercurial Scot Colin McCrae behind the wheel.

The unconventional flat-four turbocharged WRX would go on to take another title in 2001, with Englishman Richard Burns driving.

And last year the young Norwegian Petter Solberg, co-driven by Phil Mills, reclaimed the WRC crown for Subaru from Peugeot.

The 2004 Subaru WRX world rally challenger made its debut in Mexico this year, the third round of the championship.

And once again Subaru is well in contention for the world title, with Solberg second in the championship, just behind Sebastian Loeb in the Citroen.

The World Rally Championship rules are extremely tight designed to promote intense competition.

All cars must run a two-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine. And with an intake restrictor sizing on the turbo imposed by the organisers, all manufacturers produce much the same power - about two hundred and twenty five kilowatts.

Torque figures are massive - in the region of four hundred and fifty Newton metres.

Rally teams have learnt that torque at low engine revs is more important than high power outputs and high revs. Thus the engines only rev to about six thousand rpm.

With such tight regulations giving performance parity, the secret to success is all about getting power to the ground.

Here the teams use amazingly sophisticated active differentials on both front and rear axles and the centre differential.

These devices, with electronic wizardry as well as functions like launch control, can switch power within milliseconds between the four wheels. This is regulated according to the attitude of the car and the traction on a particular tyre at any given moment.

Tyres, too, are critical for rallying and the logistics of tyre choice and tyre support for a rally are way beyond anything seen in Formula One.

A driver may have a choice of three compounds and three different tread patterns, or cuts, for any particular special stage.

Subaru's tyre partner is Pirelli, and the Italian tyre manufacturer played a big part in Subaru's victory last season.

Playing just as big a part was its 29-year-old star, Petter Solberg. Solberg was particularly fast on tarmac, winning rallies against the tarmac specialists from Peugeot and Renault.

And this season he has been a pace-setter on all surfaces, with only bad luck robbing him of the championship lead at this point, half way through the 16-rally season.

Rallying has become so competitive that a team such as Subaru will build three different cars for different types of rally terrain.

Subaru will have a car for tarmac, a tar for smooth gravel and a specially strong car for rough gravel.

This car, the 2004 WRX, is a tarmac car, as can be seen by the amazingly low ride-height, almost as low as a circuit racing Touring Car.

In the tarmac car the navigator sits so low he cannot even see out of the windscreen in front of him. This is to keep the centre of gravity in the car as low as possible.

Navigators like Phil Mills play a vital role in rallying today, and they work even harder than the drive in the car.

World Rally Championship competition is done on the pace-note system, which means teams can practice the route twice before an event.

During these recce runs the driver and navigator prepare pace notes on each and every piece of the road covered in a special stage.

Instructions may be to the driver on the lines of "Sweep, flat in fifth" or "ninety right, second" referring to the severity of the corner and the gear that should be used.

The pace of World Championship Rallying is this much faster, more "one-the-limit" than it is in South African Rallying, where crews go into a special stage "blind" with no prior practising.

Logistically, WRC is one of the most expensive and involved sports in the world, surpassing in some cases the level of team participation in Formula One.

On a typical rally there will be 70 team members, and these include engineers, managers doctors, 16 technicians for each car who refurbish it at the servicing points, caterers and public relations staff.

Rallies are typically run over three days, and to maintain this level of concentration over such a long period requires a special level of fitness and mental toughness.

The Subaru team is run by Prodrive, which is owned by Dave Richards, the same man who owns the BAR Honda Formula One team. Incredibly, Richards also owns the world television rights for the WRC.

It is true to say that without its massive exposure through the World Rally Championship, Subaru may still have been a largely unknown entity.

As it is, the WRX has become a world-wide cult car, with madly enthusiastic owners throughout the world.

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