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Friday favourite: The “pure enjoyment” Subaru that restarted Kubica’s racing journey

After his life-changing rally crash in February 2011, Robert Kubica resumed his career with low-profile asphalt outings in a full WRC-spec Subaru. In a fairytale return, he won first time out in a machine he regards as his favourite car

Robert Kubica, Subaru Impreza WRC

When speaking to Robert Kubica, his passion for all forms of motorsport quickly comes to the surface. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that when choosing his favourite car, the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix winner eschews the obvious pick of the BMW-Sauber F1.08 that he drove to his only Formula 1 victory in Montreal. In any case, he regards the 2005 F1 title-winning Renault R25 that he tested at Barcelona after winning that year’s Formula Renault 3.5 title as “the most amazing car I drove”.

For his favourite, Kubica instead picks a rally car but, given the very first vehicle the Pole bought with his own money was a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, his choice of the Subaru Impreza S12B WRC 07 is perhaps a little unexpected.

“You were Mitsubishi or Subaru, and I was a Mitsubishi guy,” says Kubica of his youth in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the two Japanese manufacturers were at the peak of their popularity in the World Rally Championship.

It was that long-held passion for rallying that took Kubica to his fateful participation in the 2011 Ronde di Andora Rally in Italy. His Skoda Fabia’s brutal impact with a barrier that changed his life forever abruptly halted an F1 career that looked destined for greatness, but Kubica says he “never doubted that I will be back” in competition in some form.

And so it was in September 2012, after 19 months and 16 operations, that Kubica made his eagerly anticipated competition return in the Subaru on three supposedly low-key asphalt rallies in Italy. Aboard a First Motorsport-run Impreza with his initials emblazoned on the bonnet, he won the Ronde Gomitolo di Lana rally, crashed out of the San Martino di Castrozza and then won in Bassano del Grappa.

Citroen then came calling and his career embarked on a move into the WRC for the next three seasons before stepping up his efforts to secure an F1 return that eventually materialised with the woeful Williams FW42 in 2019 and two cameo appearances for a COVID-stricken Kimi Raikkonen as Alfa Romeo's reserve in 2021.

The S12B isn’t regarded as the finest of the Banbury-built Impreza family, mustering just two podiums with 2003 world champion Peter Solberg in 2007 before Chris Atkinson managed another four with an updated car the following year. It was plagued by handling issues, with Solberg notably withdrawing in Finland when his car felt undriveable. Kubica acknowledges that it was “not necessarily super nice to drive” although enjoyed its full WRC-spec four-wheel drive, admiring “the engine sound, the power it has”.

Kubica made his rallying return in this Subaru following his horrific accident in 2011

Kubica made his rallying return in this Subaru following his horrific accident in 2011

Photo by: Andre Vor / Sutton Images

“I always liked the sound of that car, the boxter engine, it was incredible,” the World Endurance Championship LMP2 points leader recalls. “The launch control at the start, it was upshifting along from first to second, I think it was really active diffs and it was something special. There is a lot of romantic history behind Subaru rally cars.”

When asked to explain his choice of a rally car over a circuit racer, Kubica gives a revealing answer.

“The reason is because rally cars are generally more friendly to drive,” he says. “So they give you a feeling of that you are fully under control, although it might be misleading. But it gives you much more room to play with. Racing cars are built more in the using a peak grip, maximum of performance in this specific circumstances, conditions and track. In rally you go through different surfaces, different conditions, so the cars have to have a wider operating window and this is a feeling which you don’t have at all on circuits or very, very little.”

"Subaru was a kind of low-profile restarting thing and I just wanted to enjoy. And I paid by myself from my pocket" Robert Kubica

The S12B may have had its flaws, but for Kubica’s unique set of circumstances it was the ideal weapon to whet his competitive appetite after a 580-day hiatus. It would be wrong to say that it was a car that gave him back his passion, for Kubica stresses he never lost it, but “it was the way of getting back to the environment which I know, which I was in love” with.

“I have big passion for the sport so whatever has four wheels and a steering wheel, I like it,” he says. “First of all, I am a driver but I also enjoy watching and I have big respect of any kind of motorsport drivers and anything what is really on a high level.

“What I always say is, whatever it is, if it’s go-kart, if it’s a Formula 1, if it’s a rally car, if it’s LMP2, it’s always difficult to bring it to the limit. It doesn’t matter if it has 20 horsepower or 1000 horsepower. To bring vehicles to the limit is always challenging and difficult task.

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“Of course, I had doubts on how it will be [after his accident] and up to which level of rehabilitation of myself I can arrive to then, this will unlock my opportunities. Or if I could not drive competitively racing cars, I will not do it.

“Subaru was a kind of low-profile restarting thing and I just wanted to enjoy. And I paid by myself from my pocket. It was just pure enjoyment and fun.”

The Subaru may have been

The Subaru may have been "low-profile" to restarting Kubica's career, but it ranks as his favourite car to have driven

Photo by: Andre Vor / Sutton Images

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