By the mid-1990s, Subaru was well established as a major force in the World Rally Championship (WRC). The Prodrive SWRT ran in the top echelons of the sport with drivers such as Colin McRae and Richard Burns. The road-going Impreza WRX was selling well in the rest of the world, and car enthusiasts were pestering Subaru of America, Inc. (SOA) to import it.
In June 2000, a group of SOA senior executives attended the Acropolis Rally in Greece on a fact-finding tour as guests of Prodrive. They met with their counterparts from the United Kingdom and other countries in order to learn what it would take to form a U.S. factory team. The SOA officials obviously liked what they saw and heard, because they came back from the trip and put into motion the creation of Subaru Rally Team USA (SRT USA). They believed it would be the only effective way to promote the WRX to rally enthusiasts in America.
At that time, Prodrive partnered with Lance Smith's Vermont SportsCar (VSC) to build and maintain a two-car team. Prodrive brought Mark Lovell, a former British rally champion, out of retirement to be the main driver. SOA chose Karl Scheible as driver of the second car, partly because he had been rallying with VSC for several years. (He was among a handful of drivers who campaigned for Subaru after Chad DiMarco's Subaru-sponsored team had been disbanded.)
SOA officially launched SRT USA at the New York International Auto Show in April 2001, soon after the all-new 2002 WRX debuted in the United States. Even so, SRT USA had already competed with the WRX in a couple of rounds of SCCA ProRally.
At first the team used an "old" WRC car for Lovell. It was upgraded and modified for SCCA Open Class rules. Scheible drove a Group N WRX STi. SCCA Open Class cars were heavily modified, but not as potent as WRC cars; Group N rally cars were essentially production cars with slight modifications.
Mark Lovell, winner of the 1986 British Rally Championship, came out of retirement in 2001 to lead SRT USA. He and co-driver Steve Turvey won the 2001 SCCA ProRally championship in their WRX STi, with six wins in 10 events.
When it rains in Southern California, the dusty tracks at the Rim of the World Rally turn into a muddy mess. So many cars got stuck in the 2003 event that several stages were cancelled, and Lovell finished 2nd. Afterwards he said conditions were worse than any he had ever encountered, even in rallies in often-wet Britain!
Photo: John Rettie
The 2001 season proved to be a winning one for SRT USA. Lovell won six of the 10 events and took the overall drivers' championship, while Subaru captured the manufacturers' championship. Scheible won the Group N championship. Plus, Subaru also snatched the Production GT class for manufacturers.