How can we make auto racing an Olympic sport? Subaru has an idea


Bobsleds don't have rearview mirrors. Turns out, Subarus about to run down bobsled tracks don't need them.

But that's only one of the modifications made to the Subaru WRX STI prepped by rally specialists Prodrive to race down the mecca for bobsledders in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The others? A reinforced front and rear frame, 8-millimeter studded tires outlawed by rally racing's governing body, beefed up suspension parts that can withstand G forces meant for jet fighters, and a pilot equipped with an Alps-sized set of...never mind.

It's hard to understate what the bobsled track in St. Moritz means to the winter Olympic sport. It's the oldest and only "natural" course that's ever hosted the Olympics. It's carved out of the ground and was the first bobsled course in history. Minders groom the course at night and shape nearly 100 years of earth around the track. It's feels like it's alive.

The St. Moritz bobsled track is the spiritual home for bobsled racing. Running a souped-up STI down the course is like jumping a monster truck over the 18th green at St. Andrews.

Well, then. It sounds like we have a double dare.

Subaru STI in St. Moritz

Subaru STI in St. Moritz

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The stunt may be part of a larger push that Subaru is making over the next few years. Tired of hearing that the Impreza is just a watered-down WRX, Subaru may be making space between the Impreza and the WRX and the WRX STI. The typical cadence of the WRX following the Impreza from which its based has been pushed further apart for greater chronological and philosophical separation.

Nonetheless, the WRX STI that's about to make this run looks fairly stock from 50 feet away—apart from some welded bits, those studded tires, and bolted-on bumpers that Prodrive provided in a hurry.

Subaru STI in St. Moritz

Subaru STI in St. Moritz

Enlarge Photo

Rally and stunt driver Mark Higgins raised his hand to make the run, and he's familiar with the car already; he used the same car to set a record for a production car in a lap around the Isle of Man in 2014. He set another record around the Isle of Man in 2016 later in a different car built by ProDrive, and Higgins isn't shy about expressing his desire to set an overall record in the future—he hails from the small island between Britain and Ireland.

Higgins once slid a prototype Aston Martin DB10 around the Vatican City for the James Bond movie "Spectre," but the prospect of running a Subaru around a banked, 180-degree turn appropriately named "Horseshoe" at a nearly vertical angle to the ground had him placing his odds at 50/50 just before the stunt.

"I don't know what's going to happen, really," he said.

Centrifugal physical force would prefer that Higgins' car end up somewhere over the wall, scattered into the trees and turned into confetti for the penultimate corner, named Martineau, right before the finish straight. If he's too slow, he'll end up on his side, roughly 11 turns before Martineau—somewhere in the middle of the Horseshoe—and in desperate need of a tow.


 
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