Track Tested, Track Approved 

12/14/2017

14.3

Eight-time rally champion David Higgins takes the driver’s seat to push the 2018 WRX STI Type RA.

A rally driver’s eyes only hunt so far. They transmit a tunneled vision, where turns and trees blur by as if a pilot were barrel rolling through a forest. As David Higgins entered Turn 1 at Virginia International Raceway (VIR), a course he’d never seen, he was without a co-driver. Blind crest after hidden corner, the rally champion was hammering like he’d been there his entire career.

David Higgins goes for a spin in the WRX STI Type RA.
David Higgins goes for a spin in the WRX STI Type RA.

Fresh off the updated 2018 WRX STI, Subaru engineers were already making that car into a lighter, track-focused special edition. With deadlines nearing, they needed to finalize suspension and tuning. So they invited Higgins, six-time rally champion since joining Subaru Rally Team USA, to provide his feedback. The result? A precision-tuned WRX STI Type RA. That “RA” stands for “Record Attempt,” and this record attempt was the record run that the WRX STI Type RA NBR achieved on July 21, 2017, when it completed the circuit at Germany’s epic Nürburgring in 6:57.5. The 12.9-mile Nordschleife is recognized as one of the world’s most demanding race courses, and it’s the bar that all performance cars measure against.

EJ25 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer 4 with 310 horsepower
EJ25 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer 4 with 310 horsepower

If there’s a weak spot in a sports car, VIR’s 4.2-mile Grand Course is the place to find it. A test at VIR condenses challenging real-world conditions a Subaru was designed to tackle.

“The first drive in the RA tells you how smooth it is,” says Higgins. “It’s more comfortable on the road, yet the second you get on the track or an open road, you feel the performance changes.”

Unlike the STI race cars Higgins fields in rallycross, the Type RA shines in a subtler way. Indeed, there’s more shove and fury. The EJ25 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer 4 produces 310 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, plus a new exhaust cuts back pressure and emits a racier tone under hard acceleration. The main objective of the Type RA, though, is about improving the already impeccable agility of the STI. A carbon-fiber roof and rear wing cut weight, while 19-inch forged gold BBS wheels reduce unsprung weight to improve steering and braking response from the Brembo calipers. 

The 19-inch forged gold wheels reduce unsprung weight to improve steering and braking response from the Brembo calipers.
The 19-inch forged gold wheels reduce unsprung weight to improve steering and braking response from the Brembo calipers.

The Bilstein® dampers, calibrated off 44-year-old Higgins’ sensitive backside, are the car’s finest detail. Together with Yokohama Competition tires, the dampers deliver a double-whammy: They help provide a more controlled ride while quickening the car’s ability to rotate. According to Higgins, the Type RA is sharper, more neutral at the limit and dialed for more oversteer.

“When you lean on it, it feels like a full-blown race car,” says Higgins.

Engineers tried four different tire and damper combinations over the session at VIR. Fitted with the 245/35R19 Yokohama Advan Sports, essentially a road-legal racing tire that Subaru of America hasn’t previously offered as stock, Higgins slashed five seconds off his lap.

A rear wing made from carbon fiber helps cut weight.
A rear wing made from carbon fiber helps cut weight.

Subaru has offered harder-edged Type RA models since 1993, but only in Japan – until now. The U.S. model has been stripped down and rubbed raw, trimming pounds and convenience for ultimate lap times. But even Higgins admits that owners don’t drive this hard every day. For those times, they’ll appreciate the refined Recaro® front seats and Ultrasuede® steering wheel alongside its generous list of standard equipment and latest technology. Black, white or the famous WR Blue will be offered.

You’ll have to move quickly if you want to get a Type RA on the track. Just 500 vehicles will be available, starting in spring of 2018. There’s no doubt race fanatics near and far will lock eyes on the Type RA – and if you’re the lucky driver, someone will always beg to sit up front.

Learn about the record attempt at Nürburgring with the WRX STI Type RA NBR.

WRX STI Type RA