It sent shivers down the spine of rallying and rallycross fans across the world. Subaru’s announcement that the WRX STI badge will not return in the future felt like the real end of an era.
And that got us feeling rather reminiscent; thinking about our favorite Subaru WRX STI moments from over the years. But rather than keep them to ourselves, we’ve decided to share them with you to remember one of the most iconic competition vehicles there’s ever been.
Sometimes it never hurts to choose the cliché options. If I didn’t, somebody else would’ve. After all, Colin McRae’s World Rally Championship title success in 1995 is what made the words WRX and STI just so desirable for the man on the street.
McRae was the people’s hero, and the Impreza was the people’s car. People could relate to McRae and adored his style. Up against double world champion and team-mate Carlos Sainz for that year’s title, McRae was the underdog – and who doesn’t love an underdog?
There’s so much about that 1995 finale that makes it the stuff of legend. Whether it be the McRae mania that swept the stages, his simply epic comeback from a puncture that threatened to derail his bid, or the fact he stopped off to play a bit of pool in a local pub on his way to the first stage of the final morning – it’s an infectious story.
As a Scotsman, it just pains me I wasn’t around to see it. Born two years later, I grew up hearing about it rather than experiencing it, and I think that’ll always make me a bit sad.
The last-stage roll that still led to victory
One of the most notable Canuck rally competitors of the 2000s was undoubtedly Subaru Rally Team Canada driver Pat Richard. While Richard had raced in the US, and even won two national championships, he’s probably most famous in Canada for his all-or-nothing, max attack driving style, which led to many moments reminiscent of the great Colin McRae.
While there are plenty of show-stopping moments to choose from, Richard’s most memorable by far came in 2010 at the Rallye Baie Des Chaleurs. Already a rally of carnage – with, according to “Crazy Leo” Urlichich, 11 major accidents that rally – Richard and co-driver Alan Ockwell were three miles from winning their first rally of the year. But clipping the inside of a corner led to the pair’s hatchback Impreza WRX STI flipping across the road and into the trees on the other side.
Not one to give up, Richard and spectators pushed the car back into the road and got it right side up. Windshield caved in, alignment totally out of whack, and not a straight panel left on the car, Richard put the hammer down and flew across the flying finish jump in front of a sea of surprised spectators, and managed to hold Crazy Leo off for the win.
Mount Washington records
When it comes to legendary motorsport events, the United States is home to a fair few: the Daytona 500, the Indy 500, Pikes Peak and the Rolex 24 and Sebring endurance classics. But one event has been around longer than all of them.
Mount Washington’s Climb to the Clouds has become Subaru’s flagship motorsport conquest in recent seasons. Run once every three years, the brand has taken its latest and greatest machines up the New Hampshire mountain in search of records since 2010 – and every time it’s snatched one.
After setting the benchmark with Travis Pastrana and David Higgins in 2010 and ’14 respectively in Impreza WRX STI rally cars, Vermont SportsCar took a rather special tool to the 2017 event.
Once again it was the team’s US rally challenger, this time a WRX STI, but under the hood was the company’s rallycross powerplant, roughly doubling the car’s horsepower. The end result was a record of 5m44.72s for Pastrana, 24.37s quicker than Higgins’ effort from three years prior.
Subaru’s next attempt came in 2021 (the event delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Pastrana ran solo this time around, driving the ‘Airslayer’ – the ultimate expression of what a WRX STI can be, with wild active aero and a staggering 862 horsepower on tap.
Naturally, the record once again tumbled, with Pastrana wiping another 16.05s off his previous best. In the same year the car also ran at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, finishing second in the timed shootout to a track-ready McLaren.
Return to Gymkhana
Ken Block caused a sensation with his viral ‘Gymkhana Practice’ video in 2008, and its follow-up Gymkhana two.
Following his switch to Ford, it would be 11 years before the series would welcome back a Subaru as its star car, this time with Travis Pastrana assuming driving duties.
The car in question was the Airslayer STI, which as previously mentioned, is a perfectly potent hillclimb monster as well as being the ultimate show-off-mobile for the viral video franchise.
The Nitro Circus ringleader brought a new dynamic to the series, utilizing more jumps and more high-speed runs than ever before for his video shot in his hometown of Annapolis, Maryland.
So far Pastrana’s Gymkhana debut has racked up just short of 48 million views.
Higgins vs Pastrana
With Rally America on its last legs, the newly-founded American Rally Association National series became US rallying’s biggest series in 2017.
Subaru pivoted to the fresh competition right away and set about continuing its strong form that had delivered six consecutive titles in the preceding years, and 10 in the last 11 seasons.
The 2017 season would prove to be Subaru’s most successful with the WRX STI as it locked out the top two spots in every event on that year’s ARA schedule. David Higgins and Travis Pastrana, contesting his first full season since 2009, shared three wins apiece to finish equal at the top on 177 points, necessitating multiple tiebreakers for overall honors.
Higgins may have won 41 stages to Pastrana’s 26 that year (the next-closest driver being Barry McKenna with four), but overall stage results from the year as a whole, scored in golf-like fashion, were what swung the tie – a stage win gave you one point, with the amount increasing per position down to 10th.
Both drivers remained inseparable going into the final loop on the last day of the season. With three stages left, best two out of three would take it.
Pastrana won the opening run before Higgins incurred a 15s penalty for striking a chicane on the second. That made it two stage wins from the final three for Pastrana, giving him the crown with a stage to spare.
The Subaru steamroller continued in 2018 with Higgins reclaiming his crown, while Pastrana, Patrik Sandell and Chris Atkinson all shared the team’s other car. Higgins won four times, with Sandell snapping up victories in the other three events.
The other Higgins’ record run
It’s not just David Higgins that has enjoyed a strong and successful bond with Subaru; older brother Mark has accomplished some incredible feats with a WRX STI too.
Hailing from the Isle of Man, the famous TT circuit is close to his heart. In 2011, he partnered with Subaru in a bid to take the four-wheel record from Tony Pond – a record that had stood since 1990.
Driving a mostly stock WRX STI sedan, Higgins obliterated Pond’s effort – set in a Rover 827 Vitesse – by over two minutes to become the new record holder. But he knew he could do better.
And that’s exactly what he did three years later, chopping 40s off his previous effort in an updated version of the WRX STI.
But it was his effort in 2016 that truly lives long in the memory. Subaru teamed up with Prodrive for the first time since Subaru’s WRC exit in 2008 to design a car specifically to break the Isle of Man record called the WRX STI Time Attack. With over 600 horsepower, a paddle-shift gearbox and extensive aerodynamics – including DRS! – Higgins unsurpsingly destroyed his own record once more.
I actually stumbled across the lap by complete accident on YouTube the other day and, well, see for yourself below. It’s simply mind-blowing the speed and commitment Higgins is able to have on those daunting Manx roads. As a British rallying fan born in the late 1990s, it’s hard to think of a more perfect combination than Mark Higgins, a Subaru and the Isle of Man.
The start of Higgins’ US domination
David Higgins has a long list of championships with Subaru to pull from, but I’m going to say his first with the team is my favorite.
The Rally America season in 2011 was pretty well star-studded despite being past the peak competition of the series in the mid-2000s. Higgins was up against the likes of Dave Mirra, Travis Hanson, and Ramana Lagemann to name just a few. The main rival for Higgins, however, would turn out to be one Antoine L’Estage.
In one of the last great showdowns of the famous brand war, L’Estage’s Mitsubishi Evo X and Higgins’ hatchback Impreza WRX STI both retired from the season opener of Sno*Drift, but traded first and second for the remainder of the five rounds of the championship.
The competition was so close that Susquehannock Trail Rally only had 1.3s separating the two with Higgins winning, and two other rounds were settled by less than 20 seconds.
If great competition and a classic battle between Mitsubishi and Subaru weren’t enough, Higgins’ first championship with Subaru would then be followed up by seven more for the team, marking the beginning of one of the most dominant runs in rally history.
While Subaru is a legendary name in rallying both in the US and on the world stage, the same couldn’t be said of its pedigree in rallycross.
That was before 2019 when the WRX STI finally hit its stride. That was also the year that Scott Speed arrived, fresh from winning four US rallycross titles on the bounce. With a driver like that on the books, Subaru had to deliver. And it did.
Winless for the preceding four seasons, it notched up four wins from six starts, including three in a row for Speed, Chris Atkinson, and Patrik Sandell at the start of the campaign. It also topped the speed charts at Circuit Trois-Rivières, where the US series was sharing the bill with World Rallycross, giving Subaru bragging rights like it had never seen before.
Ultimately an injury for lead driver Speed meant that the wait for a championship went on, but that was corrected in 2021 with the birth of Nitro Rallycross.
Subaru was the class of the field in Nitro Rallycross’ first full season, taking three wins from five starts, three top qualifier spots, a season sweep of heat wins for Travis Pastrana, a landmark 1-2-3 finish in Southern California, and that long-awaited rallycross championship crown that had eluded the brand for so long.
In fact, both of the team’s full-time drivers, Pastrana and Scott Speed, would lock out the top two positions in the points, dethroning the Hansen family that had been unbeaten in Nitro Rallycross when it previously featured at the Nitro World Games action sports event, while part-time stars Andreas Bakkerud, Kyle Busch, and Chase Elliott all managed to defeat well-known full season campaigners despite their fleeting appearances.
The 2021 season capped off a long road for the WRX STI in rallycross terms. The frustrations of 2015-18 truly banished, Subaru was well and truly the immovable force it had threatened to be for so long.
When McRae captured American hearts
I’m fairly certain Colin McRae rolling an Impreza in the 2007 X Games finals is a core memory of mine. I’d been introduced loosely to rally at a young age, but around 2007 when the first game of the DiRT series released was when I started really getting into it. I absolutely adored that game and must’ve spent hundreds of hours racing across all the disciplines with just my keyboard arrow keys.
Still in the early Rally America days when rallying in the US was getting a new fanbase through action stars, extreme athletes, and energy drink sponsorships, this was a big moment in the introduction of the sport to many viewers.
I didn’t watch this on TV originally, but rather as a re-upload somewhere on YouTube back in the days of being a ten-year-old with no responsibilities other than hours of video games and other media.
When I came across this video I had the same exact reaction as Travis Pastrana when the camera cut to him. Not only had the star driver in my new favorite video game just gotten the silver medal at what I thought at the time was the end all be all of rallying, but he had done it driving as I did in the game!
Looking back, I realize I was significantly more destructive and less successful in DiRT than McRae was in real rallying, I learned to respect rally drivers early on in life for their “press on regardless” mantra and refusal to stop for anything in the pursuit of a win from this very moment.
Petter Solberg was lucky to escape with his life, let alone still have a half-shot at the world championship, when he crashed heavily through the Panzerplatte military arena on Rally Germany, 2004.
So the fact he managed to pull off a spectacular three wins on the bounce thereafter truly showed Solberg’s strength of character and, as a Solberg fan growing up, really sticks out to me as a highlight of my time watching the World Rally Championship as a youngster.
The first of the three was claimed under immense pressure on the inaugural Rally Japan – Subaru’s first home event. Solberg led from start to finish to beat Sébastien Loeb by over a minute and edged his title rival in a thrilling fight on Rally GB too.
Another dominant win on the WRC’s first trip to Sardinia – where again Solberg led from start to finish and beat Loeb by over two minutes – threw him into title contention once again. Ultimately he failed to defend the #1, but his valiance in the iconic Impreza has always stuck with me.