Motorsport.com columnist and ITV4 BTCC lead TV commentator David Addison analyses why Subaru has left the forest stages for touring cars.
“Why are they using the Levorg and not the Impreza? I’ve never heard of the Levorg.”
In one sentence came the question and answer simultaneously, and one that I have heard a lot since Warren Scott’s proactive Team BMR BTCC squad announced it would be running a fleet of Subaru Levorgs this year.
If I’d taken a pound off everyone who has told me that the haven’t heard of the Levorg, I may be able to afford one of my own, but their ignorance of the model underlines exactly why Subaru is in favour of competing in the most competitive touring car shop window there is.
Let’s start with a few bits of housekeeping. The Impreza - that turbo-popping, flame-spitting four-door rocket that launched the Subaru name onto the world stage, helped by a generation of fans having a virtual version in Colin McRae Rally on their PlayStations - is no more.
It was a car that inspired an industry and magazines to accompany it and notched up huge success on rally stages and in showrooms. But its day is in the past. The Impreza was a car of its time and now Subaru is moving on, keen to prove that it isn’t a one-trick pony.
It will always be that in the hearts of rally fans, but it is no stranger to racing, even if not as a works team. For example, in the UK, there is a club racing series for four-wheel drive cars that encompasses Subarus, Geoff Breakall raced a Legacy in production Saloons in the 1990s and the latest Subaru WRX STi has been operated by Top Run Racing in the new TCR series at the end of 2015 for Alain Menu to drive.
Granted, that is a work in progress, but it’s another indication of the brand looking at other sales opportunities than just rallying.
So, Team BMR, with more than a little help from driver Jason Plato, has managed to pull Subaru into the BTCC. But don't think this will be a mega-buck manufacturer-style effort like the Super Touring era was, because the current generation of BTCC car doesn’t encourage carmakers to spend millions on engineering their product to gain a tenth per lap.
In contrast, a raft of common parts makes sure that everyone is competitive, and it is private teams that are now the bedrock of the championship.
What’s in it for Subaru?
Subaru has been attracted by a number of things. There is the live, free-to-air television coverage and its million viewers; big trackside audiences going up all the time; a spread of races in every corner of the UK allowing the cars to be in front of the whole nation; the ability to race against rivals Honda, Ford, MG, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and others.
This is a car that no-one really knows anything about on the high street, so what better way to promote it? And, for good measure, not only is a new brand bringing a new car into a new discipline, but it is bringing an estate version.
Oh, and it's changing its configuration from four-wheel drive (not allowed) to rear-wheel drive. This is a big project.
Will it succeed?
It should. On the driving strength are two former double champions, Colin Turkington and Jason Plato, and Turkington is a master in rear-wheel drive machinery. Last year in front-wheel drive Volkswagen CCs, Jason had the upper hand - but now it is time to reset: new machinery, new platform. The internecine contest will be a thriller.
The brains trust behind the cars will help that success as well. Team manager Alan Cole knows exactly how to win races and build good cars, and with former oval racer-turned-ace engineer Carl Faux (Plato’s man) and Turkington’s successful oppo Kevin Berry, there is no shortage of ability to make these cars winners straight away.
And there is the current tech-spec of the BTCC to consider as well. The commonality of parts means – in theory – that you can transfer success and knowledge from one shape to another. Ah, but if only life were really that easy: this year, a new supplier comes in (RML) with the standard parts, so the teams are having to learn, invest and test rather than relying on parts and data from last year.
You’ll always find people who think of a Subaru covered in mud, sideways in a forest, but the Levorg is set to educate the next generation. Perhaps some of those early Impreza boy racers now need a family car?
Subaru, just like the BTCC, is evolving and has found the perfect platform for a real marketing push.
Tell me when you’ve spotted your first Levorg on the road. I’ll wager it won’t be the last you see.