Last week I gave you all an insight into the goings on at Autosportif, a workshop based in Bicester, UK that specialises in the restoration and upkeep of Group A and WRC Subarus
The Autosportif team work on some incredible machines, but the standout for me when I dropped by was the S6 WRC car. This model represented a huge leap in technology for the time, so with that in mind, it was the perfect candidate for a feature.
But first, some context. The current remit of WRC cars are at the pinnacle of modern motorsport technology, and with societal pressures to introduce more environmentally-friendly solutions over the last few years, hybrid powertrains have eventually come into fruition. The cars may be slightly heavier, but coupled with the aerodynamic packages that have continually evolved over the previous seasons and instant boost from their electric motors, it’s done nothing to slow the cars down.
If you compare the new crop of WRC cars to road cars on sale today, the technology is more relatable, to an extent. Available straight from the dealership floor are cars with high-output turbocharged motors, torque-vectoring differentials and hybridisation amongst other things that anyone can buy, funds permitting.
Now with that in mind, think about what cars were on the road in the year 2000. Porsche had just released its first water-cooled Turbo model, and the Diablo was still Lamborghini’s halo car. When Subaru revealed the S6 iteration of their WRC entry for the 2000 championship, it was leaps and bounds ahead of anything available from a dealership.
Between the 1999 and 2000 season, Christian Loriaux spearheaded the team that completely redesigned the Subaru WRC car. While looking largely the same on the outside, the car was roughly 80% new under the skin. Given the nomenclature of a “low centre of gravity car”, moving any and all components to the lowest point to provide optimal weight distribution was a key objective. Initial results proved promising, with Richard Burns pacing at around a second a kilometre quicker than the ‘99 car during testing.
W23 SRT seen here is one of those very cars, entered in the 2000 championship. It has been in privateer hands for nearly 20 years, competing in events all over the world, from Barbados to Ireland.
While visually more relatable to road cars than the modern WRC cars, very little is shared save for the head lights, tail lights, door handles, wiper stalk and a few other small items. In tarmac trim, the car wears 18-inch OZ Racing wheels in magnesium, with water-cooled 6-piston calipers at the front. Rather than two pads per caliper, these run six smaller pads to minimise issues with sticking pistons.
The drivetrain saw some of the biggest changes. Drive-by-wire throttle paired with fully active front, centre and rear differentials and a hydraulically-actuated semi-manual gearbox (both in magnesium casings, again in the interest of weight saving) were game changers. For the first time in WRC, shifting was handled by a large paddle on the right side behind the steering wheel, with no traditional gear lever in sight. Hundreds of times per second, the transmission’s ECU would optimise torque splits, gear changes and other parameters for the conditions.
More examples of weight saving can be found everywhere you look, and there’s extensive use of carbon fibre, magnesium, titanium and aluminium throughout. The titanium bonnet prop, and one aluminium plus one steel bolt for any hinge are examples of this.
Both the washer bottle and wiper motor were even relocated to the floor.
The dash display has various modes, including a hidden scrutineering page that showed engine revs 1,000rpm higher than the true number in order to bypass the strict noise regulations in place at the time.
With no gear lever, initial selection is done by a dial, representing R (reverse), N (neutral), M (road/transit), and S (stage). Stage mode switches on the active differentials and alters the transmission calibration for maximum performance. Brake bias is managed by the red dial, and ‘PULL FOR HOT’ brings warm air into the cabin.
Unusually, two household RCDs running in parallel act as the master power switch for the car.
In the engine bay, the cooling pack was now canted over to allow for larger cooling surface area and ducting added to increase efficiency.
A retrofitted boost pack off a S10 WRC helps to store high pressure air which is released into the turbo to maintain boost pressure off-throttle. Working in conjunction with ‘The Rocket’ (search this online if you haven’t heard of it), a sophisticated anti-lag system akin to a pulse jet, meant the Subarus would leave the start line with over 3.5bar (51psi) of boost pressure at a far lower RPM than their competitors.
Even the spare wheel is positioned face down to further lower the centre of gravity.
Despite all of these advancements, Subaru still missed out on the championship in 2000, with Grönholm and Peugeot taking the title. Irrespective, development continued throughout each iteration and multiple wins followed, but the S6 was the notable entry to that evolution.
The week after my trip to Autosportif, Bicester Heritage held its themed ‘Brekkie Recce’ breakfast meet. With the opportunity to jump in W23 SRT as a passenger, I didn’t dare turn it down.
The journey was only a few miles each way, but in that time the tautness in the controls and components was hugely evident. Each degree of steering angle at the tyres was directly proportionate to that applied at the wheel; each pull of the shift paddle was followed by a weighty but purposeful thunk as the hydraulic actuators brought in the next gear. I can only imagine how devastatingly quick this car would be in the hands of a works driver at race pace.
The event itself was a largely informal affair, with the brief being to bring either a rally or rally-inspired car… and don’t wash it if you can help it. Despite the bitterly-cold weather, the dosing of sunshine resulted in a decent turnout.
Prodrive dug deep into the historic fleet and was represented by their 911 SC RS, Porsche’s interim Group B entry due to delays in the 959 development.
Tolman Motorsport brought out their previously-featured Lotus Sunbeam.
Steve Rockingham, the owner of the S5 in my Autosportif shop visit story, brought along another car from his collection, this time the S9 Impreza campaigned by Tommi Mäkinen in the 2003 World Rally Championship.
Further evolutions in the aerodynamics design can be seen when the S6 and S9 cars are side by side.
Likely my favourite car of the day, the Euro-spec Peugeot 205 Rallye is a prime example of low-powered fun, with 130hp from its 1.4L, twin Weber carb-fed motor.
Another example of low power and low weight is this rear-engined Renault 8 Gordini. I can’t help but picture it winding through the tight turns of the Monte Carlo countryside, the sonorous exhaust note bouncing off the cliff faces.
The only motorcycle to turn up was a BMW Paris-Dakar entrant from 2001, still complete with the waypoint map in the navigation unit.
The idea behind a breakfast meet is a great one: Get up before the masses, meet with like-minded people and still be home in time for lunch. There are enough cars to muse over for a few hours, but not too many that you feel rushed. The Goldilocks ratio, if you will.
I’m all for bigger events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, but it’s the small events where you really get to connect with other enthusiasts. So if you have a breakfast meet in your locality, be sure to set an alarm and attend. You never know what may turn up.