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Rally and race special Prodrive Impreza GpN › Ring Civic › McRae Stages Rally



ROAD Ed, Phil Royle, gets a private test of the £123,000 Prodrive Impreza N2010 on their fabulous proving ground – fresh back from podium finishes in South Africa and Sweden – and finds a faultless rally weapon, ready to devour special stages


rodrive – “where inspiration and innovation combine” – to make some of the world’s greatest one-off performance, rally and race cars. Surely one of the greatest names in motorsport, and certainly one of the best of British brands? Definitely, ever car I have ever tested they have been involved with has been sublime, verging on perfection. And, I’m just about to test their latest offering – the N2010 Group N Impreza rally car: The most competitive rally car in its class (in the last decade, it has won the Production World Rally Championship six times and has

had many more victories in privateer hands). This particular car is fresh back from two podium finishes in both the South African and Swedish rallies, perfectly prepped and shining for our test today, after a weekend of hard graft by the Prodrive magician mechanics. The test is taking place at Prodrive’s own private testing facility, a few miles north of their main production facility off the M40 at Banbury – deep in the countryside, away from prying eyes. The N2010 is the latest in a long and successful line of Group N Imprezas, built to take part in the PWRC, uniquely engineered to

comply with stringent FIA regulations, which now include the use of a larger (33mm) turbo restrictor, making this the most powerful and torquey Impreza yet – hand-built on the most impressive Impreza chassis to date. It’s fair to say, I’m expecting a lot... The starting point for the N2010 is a Japanese-spec WRX STi, coming with the EJ20 two-litre, quad-cam Boxer engine. Prodrive then strip the car to a bare shell, before hand-re-building the STi with a veritable army of fabulous parts, starting with their own special breed of roll cage and chassis strengthening. More than

“This is the best GpN Impreza chassis Prodrive has ever built”

200 man hours (and 80m of high tensile steel) go into this process alone, before attention is drawn to the engine, suspension, transmission, brakes, wheels, tyres, interior and exterior. New for the N2010 – to maximise the gains (c20 bhp and a whole heap more torque) from the larger turbo restrictor – are larger fuel injectors, new stage III Pectel ECU re-mapping software (complete with three-stage ALS anti-lag-system maps and launch control) and a Titanium exhaust system. There are also uprated maps for the Driver Controlled Centre Differential (DCCD), to help get all this new-found grunt down to the grippy four-wheel-drive. Ohlins have re-worked the three-way adjustable TTX and TPX dampers to suit the new 2010 Impreza, which also has performance uprated bushes all round, complimenting the hard graft done on the chassis

itself. And, as one of the chief testers said whilst showing me its bionic limits out on the airfield, “this is, without doubt, the best GpN chassis Prodrive has ever built.” Praise indeed. The N2010 also comes with an animal of a dogtooth gearbox and competition driveshafts, to cope with the rigours of the modern special stage. And, whilst being tough enough for the job in hand, they are also remarkable user-friendly and compliant; making them easy to drive, fast, which, of course, is where the tenths are made out in the forests. Needless to say, the brakes are also uprated, with excellent AP Racing gravel (as tested today) and tarmac set-ups. Inside, the finish is as you would expect from Prodrive – immaculate, and again, highly user friendly. Just take a look at the finish quality in the images

overleaf... enough said? The new 5.5-inch engine and transmission information LCD screen is brilliant, allowing Prodrive engineers to diagnose problems for customers (who can now buy these amazing cars on finance, over two years, with an option to buy the car at the end) over the phone, with ease. Prodrive’s level of customer support, parts supply, driver training and testing and development are second to none in this field, head and shoulders over the competition. The switchgear, Sparco seats, intercom, steering wheel and harnesses are all absolutely perfect too.

As is the look – competition white, bespattered in lightweight, tough and beautiful carbonfibre (including an amazing roof vent and mirrors, with integral indicators). And yet some of the already well-designed OE STi clocks and DCCD controls are maintained. Lush! I get 10 laps of the tarmac track to find out what it’s like, and words fail me: The N2010 is by far the most neutral rally car I’ve ever driven; turning in effortlessly at frankly insane speeds, changing direction in an instant and with minimal understeer and a perfectly-controllable, fourwheel-drift-tastic oversteer

bias. The brakes are bionic, with perfect feel, requiring proper effort to get them working. Grip levels are off the scale. The dog box is slick, and quick as sick; with a perfect movement and bite. And the engine has so much low down and mid-range torque it’s frankly ridiculous, making the N2010 bonkers quick to its relatively tame 130 mph Vmax (more than enough for the PWRC special stages). If you want to win in PWRC, and you have the money, then get an N2010... it’s that simple. It’ll be the best decision & fun, you’ve ever made, and Prodrive’s service is truly outstanding.

Impreza Idols


esting the N2010 was enough of a treat for a rally & Impreza nut like me, but, as if that weren’t the dog’s dangles, Prodrive had also wheeled out two of its most prized and priceless possessions: Two of my all-time rally hereos. First, there was the wide arch, utterly stunning, first of the new breed WRC cars, WRC97001, as

driven by Colin McRae, Kenneth Eriksson and Piero Liatti. And then there was the legendary Subaru World Rally Team, Group A ‘555’ beast, with its double roof vents and yellow lamps. Both cars were in their most famous liveries, with the names of the two, now most sorely missed, rally hereos of all time: McRae and Burns. WOW!


Civicised R-acing

ROAD staffer, Travis drummer and race ace, Neil Primrose gets stuck into the thrilling VLN race series on the Nordschleife in an old shape Honda Civic Type R, taking the new ‘Championship White’ Civic Type R as his revvy road tripper


he road trip over to the Nürburgring in the new ‘Championship White’ Civic was easy, quick and comfortable – marred only by the car’s excessive weight (1267Kg) and garish interior bling (see box out). But I was about to leave all that excessive weight and unnecessary bling behind me, in my Saxon Motorsport-prepared old shape Honda Civic Type R, to race in the exciting, 200+ strong VLN field of race cars on one

of my favourite circuits; the Nürburgring Nordschleife, in a four hour race. Refreshed after my journey (thanks Martin and Heidi at the Bergplatz by the castle and, naturally, the Pistenklaus steak and beer), I was ready to get cracking in the race Civic. The race car is an ex-Macau GP racer, from 2003-4 (where it was black), and had a few good wins over there, before it got smashed up. Mark at Saxon Motorsport in Kent re-shelled

it and fitted it with a plethora of quality parts, including exhaust/ECU/manifolds netting about 250 bhp, TOCA Mugen suspension, AP Racing stoppers and a full Custom Cages roller. It only weighs 1050Kg now too. The practice session was a baptism of fire and I needed to get to grips with the GP Circuit, which I picked up very quickly, then I just thought ‘go for it.’ But, after just one lap, I realised the new slicks and suspension

set-up were not working right in the conditions, so we switched to Hankook semislicks, and it all started coming together. Unfortunately, we had a problem with the German scrutineers, meaning my team mate, Marcus Mahy had to start the race at the back of the second (of three) grids. He came back buzzing, we switched the tyres front to rear and re-fuelled and I got my go behind the wheel.

For the first hour, it felt brilliant and I was very confident and passed a lot of good stuff, then I could feel the tyres going off, and had to smooth my driving style, to give the tyres some life. Then there was a sudden temperature drop in the last hour of the race, and a LOT of cars started spinning off, including quite a few of the Clio Cups I was mixing it with. I drove steady at 7-8 10ths and paced myself, like I had done at Spa in the Fun Cup.

It was a learning experience, for the 24Hr race, which I very much want to do within two years. I think the VLN is fantastic. It tests out man and machine and is a unique challenge. It’s real man stuff: Very, very difficult, but very, very rewarding. It’s not about being a hero. It takes years to get to the level of the top guys (and gals!), and teams. But we’re learning, we had fun, and, I can’t wait to be back here racing.


White lightning


was a bit dismayed when I first saw it, but it soon looked better with a fine layer of road dirt on it, and felt better still hitting the rev limiter in every gear en route to Der Ring. It’s heavy though; too heavy, which is the one thing that lets it down. The road trip was easy, and, let loose on the Autobahn, cruising at 125 mph, it felt very stable indeed. Not bad on fuel too, averaging 28 mpg. And comfortable, if Star Trek garish inside. But it only flies if you rev its nuts off, and keep it in that Vtec sweet spot and, if you removed all that bling and chrome, to save some weight, it’d be a lot quicker too, and more fun to boot.









• CL




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Seventh heaven

ROAD Ed, Phil Royle takes the luxurious, £55,385 BMW 730d SE – and its magic, mountainous, 540Nm torque straight-six, three-litre diesel – on a 1,200-mile round trip to the McRae Stages Rally in Perthshire finding seventh heaven on earth


he BMW seven series is a special car. Scrap that... it’s a VERY special car. It may look like a stretched five series, with a bit of added jush, but it’s a far, far superior car. And when you consider that the five series has been (and perhaps always will be) thought of as ‘the ultimate driving machine’ – mixing pace, with practicality, style with substance and comfort with joy in a perfect auto-

motive cocktail – that’s high praise indeed. The latest 730d SE still has all the gangster chic of the older sevens, but now comes loaded to the gills with outstanding equipment – designed to make mileage munching as pleasant, yet fun, as possible: c21st style. £55,385 might sound like a lot of wedge, but it doesn’t take long behind the wheel of one of these sublime machines to see where your

dosh has been spent. Externally, it’s massive... 5212mm to be precise and it looks it. And, inside, there is literally enough room to swing a home cat home, let alone a solitary cat. The rear legroom would suit a Harlem Globetrotter down to the ground (and they’d certainly enjoy using the fabulous rear DVD TV screens too, not to mention individual climate control). But, when you’re driving it

– and this is the clever part – it manages to feel light footed, lithe even. The mighty three-litre diesel engine (with variable vane turbo technology), married to its slick six-speed Steptronic Auto, dispatches straights with consummate ease, genuine pace and minimal fuss. And, whilst it can shift the 1975Kg bulk to 60 mph in 7.3s and onto 153 mph, it’s still capable of returning 43

mpg. It’s the very definition of fast and frugal. Then there’s the suspension, which irons out every crease in the road, yet is blindingly effective when you push on through the twisties too, especially on a stunning, sweeping A-road road like the A68, which I took cross-country to Edinburgh, en route to Perthshire for the fabulous McRae Stages Rally. On the long drag up the

A1, the 730d SE showed off another of its mind-blowing tech toys off – Active Cruise Control, guided by a neat head-up display. Simply set the desired cruising speed, and sit back in total comfort. If a car pulls out in front of you, or you catch traffic up, the system gently brakes, keeping a safe (one of four stage) distance from the vehicle in front, only to gently re-accelerate back to your set cruise when

the road is clear. It takes some getting used to, but it makes life terribly easy – leaving just the steering and choice of music, climate control and sat nav settings (on a fabulously clear, and user-friendly 10.5-inch screen) for you to worry about. Bliss. Then there’s the infrared reversing camera, with park distance control – which, on a car of this size is jolly useful. It simply wouldn’t do

to have to move your neck around in an unsightly twisting fashion, like regular drivers have to, in a car as special as the seven series now would it? And, with the infrared function, the system is faultless at night as well. These Munich engineers really think things through. All of the 730d SE’s ‘toys’ work a treat. And, the little touches, like the lit door handles, sills and footwells enhance the exclusive seven series

feel to perfection. After travelling over 600 miles en route to Perthshire, in relatively little time (everyone pulls out the way; most with a knowing, respectful nod in a 730d SE), I can honestly say, I’ve never been less stressed, with as much energy. Usually, such a journey in the UK is painful, even if the car you’re travelling in isn’t. But the 730d SE takes all of the strain, with amazing grace.

Up in Perthshire, I met up with my cousin John, his wife Kathy and their two kids, Danny and Jay – to go out into the woods and watch some first rate clubman rallying. John loved the 730d for its blingy image and blokey toys. Kathy loved it for it’s surprising pace and style. Jay said it defined cool, while little Danny boy couldn’t get enough of those rear head rest DVD’s,

even managing to catch 40 winks in the gigantic back seats, with his mum, as us boys soaked up the rain, mud and gravel watching the rallying. Heaven. Seemingly, this is a car everyone can enjoy and, whilst a lot of ‘fancy, expensive cars’ provoke extreme reactions of either profuse positivity or profound negativity, the big seven series wins over all hearts and minds.

It certainly won mine over. And, had I a spare £55,385, I would definitely have one of these bad boys in my garage; as my daily driver. There’s seemingly nothing it does badly and therefore, by definition, it does everything well. I’ve long been a believer in practical performance cars, and this big 730d SE wins you over with its Germanic brilliance in all areas, making every journey as special as it is effortless.


he Colin McRae Forest Stages has, and always will be a special clubman rally: Not just because it was Colin’s favourite rally, or for the fact that every year the Coltness Car do a marvellous job attracting big names, to mix it with the clubman Sunbeams, 205’s, Mk2 Escorts and the like... but because these are some of the

most testing, beautiful and perfect gravel rally stages in Europe. And the locals line them, tinnies in hand, airhorns at the ready; year in, year out. It’s a very special event indeed. This year was no exception: As the organisers managed to get Ken Block over to drive his legendary internet Impreza as the leading ‘Zero car.’ Sadly, this wasn’t

to be, thanks to FIA turbo restrictor regs. But it didn’t detract from the raw rallying action, with the tone set perfectly by Jimmy McRae blasting off the start line first in his jaw-dropping RS500. 110 two and 4WD cars then battled the fiercesome five stages, making for a wicked spectacle for all the many bobble hats who trekked up the hills to see it. Awesome.

Ken Block, Jimmy McRae in his RS500, Kris Meeke and enough sideways, gravel splaying activity and bonkers driving in stunning forests to satisfy anyone. Perfect!


taff super-snapper, Neil Denham stayed at the hotel, on the main street in stunning Dunkeld, on the banks of the river Tay. It’s a truly beautiful town, with friendly locals, great bars and hotels (like the Royal) and wonderful walks by the river and through the ancient cathedral. If you needed an excuse to go, pick October and watch the rally, and witness the Autumn almanac.


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