A History of High Performance
Subaru Tecnica International
Accelerates into the Future
Big things are coming from STI (Subaru Tecnica International). On April 1, 2015, Yoshio Hirakawa, the president of STI, broke the news at the New York International Auto Show that the United States is the company’s top priority, adding, “We intend to bring our complete cars to the U.S. as well.” For the Subaru enthusiasts who follow STI, this was an exciting announcement.
Many think of “STI” as merely the name of the higher performance trim of the WRX model. That’s understandable, as the WRX was first introduced to the U.S. in 2001 while the WRX STI, the first-ever Subaru to wear the STI name, arrived stateside in 2004. The WRX STI was a huge hit with drivers, spurring successive generations of even more advanced WRX STI models and building a devoted following that has grown steadily. Despite the popularity of the WRX STI, however, Subaru owners have generally not thought of STI as a truly individual brand. True, aftermarket STI performance parts and special-edition STI cars have always caused a stir worldwide, but they were never available on this side of the Pacific. So who or what is STI?
Meet the Family
The first president of STI, the late Ryuichiro Kuze, was a long-time Subaru engineer who joined Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd. (FHI) in 1953. Kuze was passionate about motorsports, with hands-on racing experience that included rallying his own Subaru 360. His enthusiasm eventually helped drive the creation of STI in 1988 as a performance division of FHI, which also happens to be the parent company of – you guessed it – Subaru of America, Inc.
In the beginning, STI was a small company – just two employees – with a grand ambition to make Subaru the No. 1 automotive brand in the world. By the late ’80s, most Japanese automakers already had their own motorsport companies, so it was a natural move for FHI to have their own motorsport division to showcase the company’s technical advancements, as well as to prove that Subaru vehicles could more than hold their own with any of their competitors. At that time, the general public perceived Subaru vehicles as safe, practical, reliable, value-oriented, all-wheel drive family vehicles but did not always think of them as fun, sporty vehicles. STI was itching to change that mistaken impression, and the public wouldn’t have to wait long for STI to make its move.
Birth of a Legacy
In 1990, FHI laid its claim to a sportier image with the first generation of the Subaru Legacy. Since it was the first vehicle released as part of the new Subaru global strategy, developing the Legacy was a big project. Subaru had to go big or go home. So the company went very big. The new Legacy was bigger than previous Subaru vehicles, and more powerful, with a 2.0-liter, 16-valve, turbocharged engine. To demonstrate its ferocious potential to the world, FHI resolved to set a new Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)-certified 100,000-km (62,137-mile) world-speed record, in the process surpassing the record held by Saab since 1986. This became the very first real test for STI, with Kuze managing the project. FHI engineers drawn from the R&D department joined staff from Subaru of America, Inc. and along with the collaboration of partners from tire and fuel companies, a total of 102 members were hand-picked to form this elite team.
The Big Test
In secret, three new Legacy RS turbo sedans were brought to the Arizona Test Center in December 1988, and the official clock was started on January 2, 1989. After 32,673 laps with 797 pit stops, a driving distance equivalent to circling the Earth two and a half times, Legacy successfully crossed the finish line after 19 days of continuous driving at maximum speed. Three Legacy vehicles had been subjected to the test, in order to increase the odds that one would break the record, but all three vehicles eclipsed the previous mark set by Saab with a new average speed record of 223.345 km/h (138.780 mph). News of the new speed record was announced at the international debut of the 1990 Legacy, and the world was put on notice that the bar had officially been raised for high-performance vehicles, placed there by Subaru Tecnica International.
Ready to Rally
With the world-speed record in its pocket, STI was ready for a new challenge. Kuze saw an opportunity to further publicize the power of the Legacy by entering it in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). In order to build the winning rally vehicles of the future, STI began the search for an experienced hand at rally car construction, a quest that, strangely enough, eventually landed STI at the door of a young, UK-based company named Prodrive. In 1990, Prodrive and STI joined forces to form Subaru Rally Team Europe (SRTE) which became Subaru World Rally Team (SWRT) in 1993. The relationship lasted for 18 years until the withdrawal of Subaru from WRC in 2008.
A Winning History
That charmed first-generation Legacy, driven by the legendary Scottish driver, Colin McRae, notched one emotional win at WRC New Zealand in 1993 before being replaced by a smaller sports sedan, the Impreza Group A. SWRT would go on to enter in the world’s toughest motorsports competitions, showcasing the cutting-edge technical wizardry of STI in an ever-more-impressive series of vehicles. The team, which included some of the best rally drivers in history such as Richard Burns, Petter Solberg, and the aforementioned Colin McRae, won the WRC Manufacturers’ Championship in 1995, 1996, and 1997, as well as three Drivers’ Championships in 1995, 2001, and 2003, and created thousands of Subaru fans around the world.
Making a Name for Itself
For the STI team, the next step was to produce limited STI models in Japan that were called “complete cars,” the most well-known example of which would be the wide-bodied Impreza 22B STI. This hand-crafted version of Impreza, limited to a run of only 400 vehicles, was released in 1998 and sold out in a single day. STI followed that success with special-edition versions of Legacy, Forester, BRZ, and the Japanese-only Exiga.
Taking on All Challengers
In 2008, FHI and SOA shifted their focus from WRC to circuit racing, which was the natural evolution of the WRX and WRX STI into the more aerodynamically improved 4-door sedans of today. STI runs a race program in Super GT, entering a rear-wheel drive flat 4 Legacy B4 GT300 vehicle from 2009 to 2012 and a BRZ GT300 vehicle since 2013. In Germany, at the Nürburgring 24-hour race, also known as “Green Hell,” STI has subjected its vehicles to continuous maximum attacks on this high-speed test course since the development of the first-generation Impreza. The STI team has won the SP3T class at Nürburgring three times: 2011, 2012, and 2015. Preparations for the 2016 race began the very first day after the 2015 victory. This team simply does not rest.
View the STI timeline
Strengthening the Connection
Starting this year, STI has officially partnered with Subaru of America and Vermont SportsCar, which runs Subaru Rally Team USA. Look for more STI engineers at various Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) events, where STI engineering resources are helping the team develop the 2015 rallycross cars. STI continues to grow and evolve, and is an integral part of the Subaru of America motorsports program.
Dad Would Be So Proud
In March 2005, shortly before SWRT raced at WRC Mexico, word arrived from Japan that Kuze had passed away. Solberg won the rally that day, and SWRT dedicated the win to Kuze, the “father” of STI. Thankfully, Kuze’s dream of making Subaru the No. 1 automotive brand in the world has been embraced by a new generation of STI team members. And, just as Kuze did all those years ago, they are dreaming big.