Under the skin of Subaru’s latest rally car

DirtFish was invited to Subaru's final test of its all-new WRX rally monster to learn all about it

Whenever any new rally car launches, it’s a big deal.

Whenever it’s the category-leading car that’s being replaced, it’s a huge deal.

Whenever it’s a new Subaru that’s about to hit the stages, well… let’s just say there’s no shortage of interest!

Combine those three factors together, and you’ve landed into this week: the launch of Subaru Motorsports USA’s all-new WRX rally car.

This is as big as it gets in our world. But what exactly is new? And why, when Subaru has won every single round of the American Rally Association this year, did a new car even need to be designed?


DirtFish was exclusively invited to Subaru and Vermont SportsCar’s final test session in Kentucky to learn more about the new WRX, built to the ARA’s Open 4WD regulations.

“For us motorsports and rallying in particular is always about marketing,” explained Lance Smith, VSC owner.

“Subaru has a new model and now the model is a WRX and we have to come out and prove that the WRX is capable of winning as well.

“We took a ’23 car, we’ve been working on this car for a little while now and it’s a full engineered car, completely different than the last one and we’re here to prove that it works.

“We’re carrying on with the brand. We’re a marketing arm of Subaru, so it’s highlighting the usefulness of that car and exposing the passion and performance of that model. That’s why we’re here.”

That’s the why straight out of the way then. But what about the what? What’s new on this new car?

“Over the last two years the changes [within ARA] have been coming, and they happen to be a reduction in power and aero to try and get down to more Rally2 rules,” said Smith.

“This one we didn’t modify a car, we actually started completely from scratch so you’ll see the aero is quite different on this car, and it doesn’t have all the wings and things we were allowed [in the past].

“We’ve had to reduce boost pressure, we’ve reduced restrictor size in the engine and things like that, so the packaging exercise to get the performance back, that was important to us.

“So how we redid the suspension and the way the car’s laid out on the inside [is all new, following FIA Rally2 regulations].”

At this point let’s introduce Bertrand Vallat, vehicle engineering manager on this project. He estimates the latest Subaru rally car is 60% new.


“It’s a new platform from Subaru, so we can not just re-use the components from the old rally car,” Vallat explained.

“So there were a lot of things to change and there was also the need to take a step in performance. So the idea was to re-use what we knew was good, try to optimize it.

“All the interfaces for the chassis stuff and so on were based on the new car, so it was supposed to be an improvement and it should be!”

Some things however do remain the same. The two-liter boxer engine, which produces 320bhp, is more than familiar and the same gearbox and differential have been carried over from the outgoing car.

You want to go into an event with confidence. If you're not confident, you shouldn't enter Lance Smith

But the big news is the suspension, which is now being supplied by R53 rather than Reiger.

A relatively unknown company by comparison, but more than up to the job according to Smith.

“We’ve used R53 in other sports, in rallycross in particular,” he said.

“The engineering capabilities of that company are very good. We legitimately tested three different types of suspension and this one was chosen by the results of that test.

“So to be honest, we have a legiance to performance and performance only, so that’s why they were selected.”

Make no mistake, the testing progress has been rigorous. Some 18 months of work has been put into getting the new WRX ready for its competitive debut at the Ojibwe Forests Rally later this month.

“You want to go into an event with confidence,” Smith said. “If you’re not confident, you shouldn’t enter. We’re not here guessing to have a result, we’re paid to have a result. So it has to be figured out in advance.


“Anything we do run into after this, it’s got to be pretty major and unforeseen. We’ve tested for multiple days in three locations and we’re really trying to have a package that’s ready.

“We did a test in Canada that was tougher than any rally we would do. The roads degraded because of the rains up there, so I can tell you the guards in this car are fully tested! No questions going forward, but we did have to make some changes [to the car throughout testing].

“But you expect that, that’s why we test. The cars don’t come out of the box perfect.”

But the expectation is obvious.

“We need to win,” said Vallat.

“We need to continue to be successful and that’s the same constraint that you have when you work with any manufacturer. That’s the request from any manufacturer when you go in a sport they want to be successful, they want to show something.

“[But] you can do as many tests as you want, you can do as much development as you want – the first race is always a step in the unknown because you never know what will happen. The best test you have done, it will never prepare you enough for a race.

“Also to do a Subaru rally car that’s iconic you know, so to work on a Subaru rally car is always something big!”

That’s a feeling shared with driver Brandon Semenuk, who jumped straight into the final test after just being crowned ARA National champion for a second time.

“Subaru is the manufacturer that got me interested in rally originally,” Semenuk revealed.

“There’s the most legendary lineup of drivers that have been in the blue and yellow, so it’s an amazing honor. This is a one in a million experience. Normally this never happens. Maybe once in your career you get this experience so to get it, I would say semi early on in my experience is amazing.


“Obviously with that amazing history and background it’s important that we work hard and keep them looking good.”

Semenuk’s confident that will be the case.

“It’s such a different car,” he said.

“The way it handles, the way it feels, the driver comfort, even the gear shift – it’s all just a little different so it’s kind of that initial shock of ‘OK this is what we’re up against’.

“[When we] turned on the ALS the thing just sounded insane, I couldn’t even hear Keaton [Williams, co-driver]. So there was the first step, just trying to get the intercom settings right and we took off – the car’s not perfect but we could feel the potential.

“The nimbleness of this car is much better than the old car. Although the balance wasn’t there yet, we knew if we could get the balance right and keep the nimbleness then already we have a performance gain.

“It was definitely really promising from day one, and we spent a lot of time trying to chase down the right balance for the car that we can get on any road and push at race pace on new notes.


“[But] I would say we won’t be 100% by Ojibwe,” Semenuk added.

“I think that’s something which [takes] at least half a season, a full season to really get the car to a place where we’re super happy with it and show up to a road and know what adjustments need to be made to make it feel perfect. That all just comes with experience and trial and error.

“I think we can be happy with the car [that] if we need to push 100% that the car will be trustworthy, and then hopefully we can find that last little bit as the events go on and we go into the next season.

“It will take some time to be as dialled as the old car, eight years of development is a long time, but we’re looking pretty good.”

As good as the old car – the one Semenuk’s used to dominate America this year?

“I would say relatively the car feels similar speed to the old car but it’s more modern, it’s like how nice the gear shift is and the driver comfort in the car and obviously the suspension provides more confidence in the terrain and things like that,” Semenuk explained.


“So it’s not necessarily that the car’s this huge performance gain, but all these little bits that kind of make it easier to drive and more forgiving should equate to speed.

“If you have to think less about that and you can pay more attention to the notes and the road, OK I think the car’s going to be quicker for sure.

“Ojibwe will be an interesting rally to show up to. It’s one of those rallies where you need to be aggressive because of the surface type – it’s soft and it can pull you round so you’ve got to be aggressive with it, but there’s a lot of things to hit hidden in the grass, the ruts come in the second pass and then also there’s a lot of new stages it looks like this year.

“There’ll be some challenges with the new notes and learning the roads again, but I think the car’s up to it. It’s showed that it’s quite reliable, I feel good about driving this year. I think we can hop in and have a good rally.”

The world will be watching with interest, but it’s hard to imagine VSC’s latest rally rocketship being anything other than a success as soon as it’s up against the clock.