IN 2004, SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM PRINCIPAL DAVID LAPWORTH EXPLAINED THAT THE TEAM’S WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP CAR DEVELOPMENT ROUGHLY FOLLOWED A THREE–YEAR CYCLE. THE IMPREZA WRC2004 REPRESENTED THE SECOND YEAR OF THAT CYCLE.
With Petter Solberg/Phil Mills in car #1 and Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen in car #2, the Subaru World Rally Team (SWRT) entered the 2004 World Rally Championship (WRC) season prepared to defend Solberg’s 2003 WRC Drivers’ Championship. Starting the season with the previous year’s Subaru Impreza WRC car, the team debuted the Impreza WRC2004 at the third event, in Mexico. However, even by that third rally, it was clear that Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (driving for Citroën) was the team to beat, having won the first two.
AN IMPRESSIVE SEASON
Mikko Hirvonen and Petter Solberg at Cyprus Rally 2004.
With Loeb chalking up 12 podium finishes (1st — six times, 2nd — six times), Solberg battled Markko Märtin (Ford) and Carlos Sainz (Citroën) for 2nd in the Drivers’ Championship. Throughout the season, Solberg/Mills finished on the podium seven times, with overall wins at the Propecia Rally New Zealand, Acropolis Rally, Rally Japan, Wales Rally GB, and Supermag Rally Italia Sardinia. Despite not finishing four events, Solberg/Mills ended the season with three more points than Märtin and nine more points than Sainz — and one less podium finish than each of them.
Meanwhile, in their second full season in the WRC as driver/co–driver, Hirvonen/Lehtinen showed great promise. They placed 7th in the WRC Drivers’ Championship.
One telling statistic for the 2004 WRC season was the total stage wins accumulated by each team. Once Solberg/Mills started campaigning the new WRC2004, they won more stages than anyone — 95 for the season. The next closest was Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen (Peugeot) with 69 and Loeb/Elena with 65.