The Impreza in which Colin McRae scored his final victory for Subaru
A double rally winner in the hands of Colin McRae
A Works 555 Subaru World Rally Team entry in the 1997, and ’98 World Rally Championship
Winner of Rallye de Portugal and the 555 China Rally in 1998
Certified by Prodrive Legends
Chassis no. PRO GC8-97.019
The Subaru Impreza WRC97
The legacy Colin McRae and his gung-ho, no-holds-barred, seat-of-the-pants driving style forged cannot be underplayed. Virtually single-handedly, he made rallying a household sport in the 1990s, and he did so thrashing a blue and yellow Subaru Impreza.
While Subaru’s exquisite rollcall of drivers over the years – including Tommi 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, that 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 Prodrive, its trusted technical partner, introduced the two-door WRC97, which was styled by the renowned automotive designer Peter Stevens and built using the latest GC8 body shell. The car proved to be a tour de force, clinching eight victories from 14 events to dominate the 1997 World Rally Championship and win the constructors’ title by a whopping 24 points.
Today, these early ‘World’ Imprezas are brilliant and surprisingly accessible cars to own and use, not to mention significant pieces of motorsport history from a time when you didn’t need a laptop and a squad of electricians and data scientists to start and run them. We’ve famously championed the ex-McRae Subaru Imprezas, and the car we’re profiling here might just be the most special of them all.
This Subaru Impreza WRC97
Like many other Works Subaru rally cars, the Impreza you’re ogling no doubt slack-jawed – chassis PRO GC8-97-019 – is most commonly known by its period registration number, ‘R19 WRC’.
Born as a 1997-specification car, i.e. Subaru’s first ‘World Car’, ‘R19 WRC’ was originally registered to Prodrive in the UK on 1 August 1997 and, less than a month later, was drafted into action at Rally Finland, the tenth round of that year’s World Rally Championship.
Kenneth Eriksson did the driving while Staffan Parmander read the pace notes. The Swedish duo had two further outings in the car: the Network Q RAC Rally in 1997 and the International Swedish Rally in 1998. By the time of the latter, where Eriksson finished a commendable fourth overall, ‘R19 WRC’ along with every other Works 1997 Impreza had been upgraded by Prodrive to WRC98 specifications.
It took the most famous rally driver pairing in the world, the one and only Colin McRae and his estimable co-driver Nicky Grist, to carve the imprint of ‘R19 WRC’ in the history books.
TAP Rallye de Portugal 1998
If there was ever a time for Colin McRae to do a number on his bitter championship rival Carlos Sainz, it was Rallye de Portugal in March of 1998. Not only was Subaru languishing behind in the manufacturers’ standings after three rounds, but the occasion was also the Spaniard’s 100th World Rally Championship start, which was a then-record.
After an astonishing final stage in which he swung his Impreza from lock-stop to lock-stop, McRae’s winning margin of 2.1sec ahead of Sainz was the closest ever in 25 years of world stage rallying. Arguably more impressive is that the Scot was able to push so hard throughout the event and win nine special stages despite anxiety over an engine issue discovered by his team on day one. “There was no point in slowing down,” McRae said afterward in his typically droll manner, “it was either going to break, or not.” The tens of thousands of frenzied Portuguese fans who’d come out to watch the rally were sufficiently enthralled.
555 China Rally 1998
The Chinese round of the 1998 Asian Pacific Rally Championship attracted the Works Subaru outfit for two reasons. Not only was the team’s title sponsor 555 the title sponsor of the rally, but it was also an opportunity for Subaru to steal a march on its rivals and learn precious information about an event that was earmarked as a round of the World Rally Championship the following year in 1999.
Such was the prominence of 555’s sponsorship of the event that any competing car not painted blue and yellow never really got a look in. McRae drove ‘R19 WRC’ on just two occasions, achieving two victories – a 100-percent hit rate.
1999 World Rally Championship
For the 1999 season, ‘R19 WRC’ was assigned to – and subsequently bought by – the French industrialist Frédéric Dor, who competed in both the World Rally Championship under the Prodrive All Stars and the French Gravel Championship. In the latter, Dor and his compatriot and co-driver Philippe Viale clinched outright victory at Rallye Terre de Corse.
A stipulation of Dor’s was that his cars were always to be run in plain white – an especially unusual site among cars that were typically plastered with sponsor stickers. Bizarrely, he also had Prodrive fit electric windows to ‘R19 WRC’. Because why expend unnecessary energy winding the windows when you could use it eking seconds from a special stage? In hindsight, electric windows today are a godsend.
Crucially, the FIA Gold Book – which was introduced for the 1999 season – confirming the World Rally Championship events the car entered under Dor’s stewardship still accompanies the car today.
Following the 1999 season, this Subaru Impreza was sold and subsequently used as a privateer entry in domestic rallies in the United Kingdom, all of which are documented. In 2011, ‘’R19 WRC’ was acquired by its previous owner, who proceeded to use and enjoy the car in a number of British historic rally events.
In 2016, the decision was taken to comprehensively restore ‘R19 WRC’ back to its Portugal 1998 specification. The work was entrusted to the renowned Subaru specialists at Autosportif Engineering Ltd in Oxfordshire. Resplendent in its signature blue-and-white 555 livery and once again bearing the hallowed McRae name on its rear windows, the restored Impreza was exhibited at a raft of further events between 2016 and 2019, including the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it ran up the world-famous hill climb, and Rally Legend in Italy.
‘R19 WRC’ was also the star of an extensive feature in Evo Magazine, in which motoring journalist Adam Towler examined the ‘anatomy’ of the car in the wider contest of the ‘World’ rally weapons of the late-1990s. Furthermore, this Impreza has received its Prodrive Legends certification, confirming its authenticity and period competition history.
Not only was ‘R19 WRC’ a double winner in the hands of Colin McRae, arguably the most famous rally driver of all time, but it was also the very car in which the Scot scored his final rally victory for the Works Subaru outfit, the marque with which he forged his legend. As such, it stands today as one of the most historically significant ‘World’ rally cars of them all and, in its beautifully restored state, a magnificent tribute to the late McRae and his beguiling brilliance. A word to the new owner: if in doubt, flat out!
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