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Raced by the World Rally Champion Colin McRae to victory in the inaugural 555 China Rally in 1997
The winner of the 1997 Swedish Rally with Kenneth Eriksson
A Works 555 Subaru World Rally Team entrant in the 1997 World Rally Championship
An entrant in 10 World Rally Championship events from 1997 to 1999
Presented in the Works livery in which it won the 555 China Rally with Colin McRae
Chassis no. PRO GC8-97-006
The Subaru Impreza WRC97
The legacy Colin McRae and his gung-ho, no-holds-barred, seat-of-the-pants driving style forged cannot be downplayed. Virtually single-handedly, he made rallying a household sport in the 1990s, inspiring a generation. And he did so thrashing a blue and yellow Subaru Impreza.
While Subaru’s exquisite rollcall of drivers over the years – including Tommy Mäkinen, Juha Kankkunen, Petter Solberg and Richard Burns, to name but a few – led the marque to three Drivers’ and three Constructors’ World Championships, it’s the McRae period from 1997, when the new era of ‘World’ cars were introduced, which remains closest to our hearts.
When the World Rally Championship regulations drastically changed ahead of the 1997 season, putting an end to the Group A era, Subaru and its trusted technical partner Prodrive were well prepared. The two-door WRC97, which was styled by the renowned automotive designer Peter Stevens and built using the latest GC8 bodyshell, proved to be a tour de force. It clinched eight victories from 14 events to easily dominate the 1997 World Rally Championship and win the Constructors’ title by a staggering 24 points.
Today, these early ‘World’ Imprezas are brilliant and surprisingly accessible cars to own and use, not to mention significant pieces of history from a time when you didn’t need a laptop and a squadron of electricians and data scientists to start and run them. We’ve famously championed the ex-McRae Imprezas, of which this car is among the most famous…
This Subaru Impreza WRC97
As with virtually all of its Works counterparts, the Subaru Impreza WRC97, chassis number PRO GC8-97-006, is more commonly referred to by its period registration number ‘P5 WRC’.
A 1997-specification Impreza, i.e. Subaru’s first ‘World Car’, ‘P5 WRC’ was first registered by the factory on 6 December 1996. The first event for which the car was earmarked was the 46th Swedish Rally in February, round two of the 1997 World Rally Championship. The local hero Kenneth Eriksson was assigned to drive under the Works banner, alongside his longstanding co-driver and compatriot Staffan Parmander.
There was great expectation on Eriksson’s shoulders ahead of the weekend – his fellow 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Piero Liatti had triumphed in the opening round in Monte-Carlo, the two-door Impreza’s competitive debut. Could the experienced Swede follow suit on home soil?
Well, yes is the short answer to that question. In fact, after the event Eriksson was adamant that it was the finest of his three wins in Sweden. On day one he made snatching and keeping the outright lead look easy, even upstaging his former World Rally Champion teammate Colin McRae. Retaining that well-earned lead on day two and three would prove to be less straightforward.
Unpredictable would be the best adjective to describe the Swedish Rally in 1997, resulting predominantly from the snow, or rather lack thereof. In the bittersweet position of opening the proceedings on day two, Eriksson was faced with a treacherous cocktail of ice, slush, mud, gravel and even standing water. With zero margin for error, the Swede battled on, staring adversity directly in the face even more so when his gearbox (and subsequent replacement transmission) began to falter.
Devoid of sixth gear on the decisively long final stage of the rally, Eriksson brought ‘P5 WRC’ home in first place with five special stage victories. It was an extraordinary win, helped in part by Subaru’s foresight in extensively testing the Pirelli tyres on broken surfaces beforehand. The team couldn’t have played the tyre lottery in Sweden any better.
The 31st TAP Rallye de Portugal in March – round four of the World Rally Championship – was this Impreza’s next competitive outing, Eriksson and Parmander once again chosen to drive the car. In what turned out to be a real war of attrition, both the Subarus of Eriksson and his teammate Colin McRae led the rally… before retiring with near-identical engine issues.
Until that point for Eriksson on special stage 21, the Swede had been enjoying a measured drive, with four stage victories under his belt. That said, there was widespread criticism of the organisers for not effectively managing spectator safety, especially on the opening – and sole – asphalt special stage. “The spectators are standing in stupid places,” complained Eriksson, “I am being slowed by them.”
The next event for ‘P5 WRC’, the inaugural China Rally, was an especially important occasion for Subaru, both from a test-and-development perspective and a commercial one – the team’s patron 555 was the showcase rally’s title sponsor and, of course, China was a lucrative and untapped market for both Subaru and Prodrive.
Staged in the picturesque hills north of Beijing, the 555 China Rally was, by all accounts, a very well organised event. This time around ‘P5 WRC’ was driven by the 1995 World Rally Champion and veritable motorsport legend Colin McRae, alongside his trusty co-driver Nicky Grist. It’s important to note that owing to local registration laws, this Impreza wore temporary Chinese license plates bearing the number 001.
At an event the Works Subaru team was determined to win, Colin McRae vanquished the opposition, clinching a stellar victory. To put the canyon of time between the Scot and everyone else into context, McRae finished day two of the rally a staggering three minutes ahead of his teammate Kenneth Eriksson. Job done in the Orient and another excellent win for ‘P5 WRC’.
Following an appearance at a Prodrive customer department test in early October before which it changed hands, this Impreza’s next appearance was at the 39th Rallye Sanremo in Italy, this time under the banner of Prodrive Allstars, the semi-Works Subaru outfit. It was driven by its new owner, the French industrialist and racing driver Frédéric Dor. As with all his rally cars, Dor repainted ‘P5 WRC’ in plain white with no sponsor decals. Partnered with his co-driver Didier Breton, he finished 15th overall.
Dor retained ‘P5 WRC’ (the car remained on the same registration throughout his ownership) for the 1998 and ’99 World Rally Championships, entering six legendary events with the Prodrive Allstars team including the Acropolis Rally in Greece, Rally Finland, Rally Argentina and the Safari Rally in Kenya. At the beginning of the 1999 season, the FIA introduced the Technical Passport, otherwise known at the Gold Book, to track which cars contested which rallies. ‘P5 WRC’ retains its Gold Book, in which the six WRC events it entered are verified.
Following the 1999 season, ‘P5 WRC’ was sold once again and subsequently used as a privateer entry in domestic asphalt rallies across Europe. The car acquired by its previous UK-based owner in 2016, who enjoyed driving it at a plethora of demonstration events. During the course of his six-year ownership, the previous owner entrusted all maintenance of ‘P5 WRC’ to the renowned Subaru rally specialist Autosportif Engineering, as authenticated by the multitude of invoices accompanying the car.
Crucially, in 2020, he had this Impreza certified by Prodrive Legends, confirming its authenticity and period Works competition history. We acquired this ex-Works Subaru in September of 2021 and, after considering its historical significance, took the decision to return the car to the exact specification and livery in which it won the 1997 China Rally in the hands of Colin McRae.
This included reinstating the two roof ventilation intakes and the mirrored tint on the side windows. We also had an exact recreation of the temporary Chinese registration plates with which this Impreza competed that weekend specially fabricated, to complement the ‘P5 WRC’ plates on which the car remained registered in the United Kingdom. Once the changes had been made, we returned this Subaru to Prodrive to be inspected by the very personnel who built and ran it back in 1997. Prodrive retains all of its trophies and it was amazing to reunite this car with the trophy McRae and Grist were awarded after winning in China.
Not only does this magnificent WRC car boast an entirely traceable history, but it’s also accompanied by an extraordinary history file. Included are the UK V5 registration, extensive invoices, photographs of the car being inspected at Prodrive, magazine features covering the events in which the car competed and the Prodrive Legends certification binder, which contains notes confirming which of the factory drivers drove which chassis on the events.
Using the Girardo & Co. Archive, we have sourced a plethora of captivating high-res photos of ‘P5 WRC’ in action during its factory 1997 campaign. Furthermore, we have sourced comprehensive documentation of both the 1997 Swedish Rally and 555 Rally China, with everything from driver pace notes, spectator guides, media itineraries and journalists’ first-hand notes to special stage timesheets, maps and manufacturer schedules, they’re nostalgic and extraordinarily detailed snapshots of the word-famous events in which this car triumphed.
Today, ‘P5 WRC’ is an incredibly significant piece of rallying history – an ex-Works two-door Subaru Impreza World Rally car which won two international rallies, one in the hands of the late great Colin McRae. That it retains its period factory UK registration is the proverbial cherry on the cake. Whether you want to enjoy this top-flight rally car on the road or at any one of the number of prestigious events for which it’s eligible, including Rally Legend and the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Members’ Meeting, this Subaru Impreza WRC97 is patiently waiting for its next chapter to be written.
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