Subaru Impreza WRC 97 – First Championship-winning Car in WRC Era

  • Colin McRae at 1997 Rallye Sanremo
  • Colin McRae at 1997 Rallye de Portugal
  • Piero Liatti at 1997 Rallye Sanremo
  • Piero Liatti at 1997 Rallye sanremo
  • Kenneth Eriksson at 1997 Acropolis Rally

In 1997, the era of the World Rally Cars has started. The Group A cars were replaced by the first generation of WRC-spec cars. The first Manufacturers’ title in that era was captured by the Japanese 555 Subaru World Rally Team, the championship-winning car was the Subaru Impreza WRC 97. For Subaru, it was the third consecutive championship title. In 1995 and in 1996 Subaru Impreza 555 has taken the titles.

Workshop: Subaru Impreza WRC 1997

Subaru Impreza WRC came as a replacement for Group A Impreza 555

New WRC regulations opened a door for many manufacturers

WRC regulations brought a big change. Their main goal was to reduce the production of the road-going version of the cars that manufacturers used for homologation. In recent years, there were ten WRC-spec cars on the starting line (Subaru Impreza, Ford Escort and Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Mitsubishi Lancer, Seat Cordoba, Peugeot 206, Škoda Octavia, Hyundai Accent, Citroen Xsara).

During the first year of WRC regulations, Ford converted its Escort RS Cosworth into Escort WRC, Subaru converted Impreza 555 into Impreza WRC while Toyota came in the mid-season with Corolla WRC. Only Mitsubishi stayed with Group A Lancer for a few more seasons to gradually convert into Lancer WRC in 2001.

Impreza WRC racing

The first generation Impreza WRC was the most successful of all Impreza WRC models

Bigger freedom for new World Rally Cars

In comparison to the Impreza 555, Subaru had a greater freedom in every aspect of a development of the WRC version: in design and materials, vehicle width, suspension geometry, aerodynamics, intercooler capacity and engine modifications.

This led to a totally redesigned car, featuring modified camshafts, cylinder ports and combustion chambers. Unlike four-door Impreza 555, the S3 WRC 97 version had two doors. The width of the car increased to 1,770 mm with a revised suspension geometry.

Prodrive produced a machine ready for winning

Like all the other WRC cars in the inaugural season under the new rules (Toyota Corolla and Ford Escort), Prodrive-produced Subaru Impreza S3 WRC 97 (which was the official full name of the car) featured 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Subaru was traditionally using a boxer engine. The power was increased to 300hp and the torque was 471 Nm.

The gearbox was Prodrive-made 6-speed semi-automatic with pneumatic paddle-shift or conventional H-pattern. The car featured an active hydro/electronically controlled viscous coupling center differential, viscous coupling front differential and limited slip rear differential.

For braking, the ventilated front disks (270-380mm) and 4/6/8 aluminum piston calipers were used, plus ventilated rear disks (270-380mm) with 4 aluminum piston calipers. The car was standing on Pirelli tires (206/65×15 or 205/50×16).

Impreza S3 WRC 97 rally drive

Subaru Impreza S3 WRC 97 scored eight wins in 1997 WRC season

Fantastic debut with three wins in a row

The Subaru Impreza S3 WRC 97 had a victorious debut at 1997 Rallye Monte Carlo.  Piero Liatti and Fabrizia Pons won the event in the #4 car, ahead of Ford’s Carlos Sainz and Mitsubishi’s Tommi Makinen. Kenneth Eriksson won the next event, the Swedish Rally, with the same car, beating Sainz and Makinen.

Subaru’s leading driver Colin McRae retired in Monaco and finished fourth in Sweden. His first victory with a new car followed in the third round of the championship, at Safari Rally Kenya.

Makinen beat McRae in drivers’ standings

Later in the season Tommi Makinen scored four wins and clinched his second consecutive world title, just one point ahead of Colin McRae. The Scotsman in the #3 Impreza WRC added four more wins to his account (Tour de Corse, Sanremo, Australia, UK) but it wasn’t enough for the title.

He won in the last round of the season (Rally GB) but Makinen finished sixth and earned a final point for his triumph.

Grist and McRae, Subaru Crew, 1997 Subaru Impreza S3 WRC 97

Nicky Grist and Colin McRae were the leading Subaru’s crew in 1997

McRae, Liatti and Eriksson collected enough points for the title

In the Manufacturers’ standings, Subaru had no problems to take the third consecutive title because Piero Liatti and Kenneth Eriksson were regularly collecting points during the season.

After the season-opening win in Monte Carlo, Liatti finished second in Spain and Italy. Eriksson scored one more win at Rally New Zealand and he added two more podiums in Argentina and Indonesia.

Piero Liatti and Fabrizia Pons - 1997 Rallye Monte Carlo winners, Impreza WRC 97

Piero Liatti and Fabrizia Pons – winner of 1997 Rallye Monte Carlo with Impreza WRC 97

Last WRC manufacturers’ title for Subaru

It was the last Manufacturers’ title for Subaru. For the 1998 WRC season, the evolution of the car came, called the Impreza S4 WRC 98. Colin McRae stayed in the #3 car, finishing third in the points. Four drivers were sharing the #4 car (Piero Liatti, Kenneth Eriksson, Jarmo Kytolehto and Alister McRae).

Subaru and Prodrive started introducing new evolutions of Impreza WRC. In 1999, Richard Burns became the main driver and he clinched his only WRC title in 2001 with Impreza S7 WRC 01. One more drivers’ title followed in 2003, with Petter Solberg in the #7 Impreza S9 WRC 03.  The last generation of the Impreza WRC was the S14 in 2008.

Kenneth Eriksson and Staffan Parmander in the Impreza WRC 97

Kenneth Eriksson and Staffan Parmander – one of the victorious crews in the Impreza WRC 97

35 WRC wins for Subaru WRC, eight wins for S3 WRC 97

In total, Subaru Impreza WRC scored 35 WRC victories and 57 podiums in twelve seasons from 1997 to 2008, securing the place among the greatest WRC cars of all time. The most successful model was the first generation, the S3 WRC 97, with eight wins, five podiums and one manufacturers’ world title.

Video :  How the Subaru Impreza WRC was born

Subaru Impreza S3 WRC 97 technical specifications

Length: 4340 mm
Width: 1770 mm
Height: 1405 mm
Wheelbase: 2520 mm
Track (front and rear): 1510 mm
Weight: 1230 kg
Chassis: Steel monocoque, 2-door coupe steel bodyshell
Engine: 1997cc, 4 cylinder turbo charged
Power/torque: 300 hp/471 Nm
Transmission: full-time 4WDfront, center and rear electronically controlled differentials
Gearbox: Prodrive 6 speed semi-automatic gearbox with pneumatic paddle-shift or conventional H-pattern
Front suspension: MacPherson strut with lower L wishbones, coil springs, Bilstein telescopic water-cooled gas shock absorbers and 17 to 35mm diameter anti-roll bar
Rear suspension: MacPherson strut with 2 lower transverse and 1 longitudinal links, coil springs, Bilstein telescopic water-cooled gas shock absorbers and 17 to 35mm diameter anti-roll bar
Braking system: Ventilated front and rear disks (270-380 mm), aluminum piston calipers
Wheels/tires: tarmac 8″x18″, gravel 7″x15″, snow 5.5″x16″Pirelli 206/65×15 or 205/50×16


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