This weekend, Marcus Grönholm will be reunited with an old friend when he starts the Logiman Mythical Cars Rally.
Nope, not his championship-winning Peugeot 206 WRC. Nor the Ford Focus RS WRC that he ended his full-time career with.
And it certainly isn’t Peugeot’s 307 WRC. That would be a foe, not a friend!
Instead, Grönholm and long-term co-driver, and brother-in-law, Timo Rautiainen will compete in a car wearing the badge of one of their old rivals.
A Subaru Impreza S14 WRC, to be precise.
But Grönholm, as many are aware, did actually drive a Subaru in the World Rally Championship – albeit just the once, and not as part of that incredible run of four rallies for four different manufacturers.
The Finn’s one and only Subaru appearance fell just over a year after he’d hung up his helmet as an active professional, during the 2009 Rally of Portugal.
The year before, Grönholm had been invited by the Portuguese organizer to drive a Focus RS WRC ’07 on the event as a course car.
But 12 months on and he stepped it up considerably, accepting an offer from Prodrive – which was now fully independent of Subaru after the Japanese marque’s decision to pull out of the WRC after 2008 – to drive an Impreza.
“Prodrive approached and offered me a chance to compete in WRC Portugal with Subaru Impreza WRC 2008 rally car,” Grönholm said at the time. “After having a test in Norway I decided to take the challenge.
“When one and a half years ago I made a decision to retire from WRC I didn’t say I’d never come back.
“However, WRC Portugal is just a single event and nothing more. After the rally I have to analyze my feelings and to see what happens next.”
In the immediate future, what would happen next was deeply impressive.
Taking a couple of stages to get back into a racing rhythm, Grönholm soon worked his way up to third which then became second when erstwhile leader Jari-Matti Latvala – the driver who replaced Grönholm in Ford’s lineup – suffered that spectacular crash down a mountain-side when he rolled his Focus over a protective barrier.
A poor time from Grönholm on the day’s final stage dropped him to fourth, behind the two Citroëns of Dani Sordo and Sébastien Loeb, but he was still only 23.9 seconds off former team-mate Mikko Hirvonen’s lead and therefore well positioned for an attack.
Unfortunately, Grönholm’s rally would end too soon on the first stage of the following day.
Through a fast, yumpy section, the 2000 and 2002 world champion briefly lost the rear but that was enough to spell disaster. The back of the Impreza clipped something solid and sent Grönholm into a spin and a roll down a bank.
“It’s disappointing for me and for the team because we wanted a nice result from here,” he reflected.
“I have not been rallying for a long time and coming back starting behind Séb and trying to do the same time in a new car is not so easy. We were on the pace yesterday and pushing today and I made a small mistake.”
It would prove to be Grönholm’s only WRC appearance in a Subaru, but he did drive the car in some Italian show events, including the Monza Rally Show and Memorial Bettega Night Sprint, later in 2009.
So it’s rather appropriate that, 14 years later, it should be in Italy where Grönholm gets back behind the wheel of an Impreza S14.
“Driving the Subaru is maybe a good plan from Andrea [Adamo],” he said.
“OK, I have some history with this car, but not so big history. If I was driving the 206 WRC, then maybe I would be tempted to think it was 2002 again and I could push like hell!
“I won’t do that. But I will enjoy the weekend. And Timo [Rautiainen, co-driver] is looking forward also. He is busy with the sport, but I think both of us are going to enjoy being back in the stages.”