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GP Week : Issue 20
5 Minutes with ... David Lapworth GPWEEK: How did you get involved in rallying to start with? DAVID LAPWORTH: The first time I saw a rally car must have been when I was 10 or so. I cycled up to a local bridge over a motorway near Coventry to watch the RAC Rally go past. Rallying came to the people in the old days, not the other way round! Later the RAC Rally used to have a special stage at Sutton Park and I remember going there with my father then, when I got a driving licence, we went to places like Trentham Gardens. I was interested in everything to do with motorsport at that time, and used to go to watch car and bike races at Silverstone, Mallory and so on. At university I got involved with 4x4 off road competition with a friend, sharing the driving. I was a Peugeot Talbot engineering student and as soon as I could I applied for and got a job with Des O’Dell’s competition department in the autumn of 1980. My first big rally with the team was Sanremo in 1980 when our cars came fourth and fifth. Two months later my first taste of victory was when our driver Henri Toivonen won the RAC Rally. Although I was the team’s engineer we all had to do everything , and one of my jobs was to run-in the engines just before the event. O’Dell decided Henri should use the new big-valve car for this event, but after 300-400 miles it dropped a valve. I had blown up his special new engine! Des was not fazed, had another big-valve engine put in the car and Henri scored his first and the team’s first win. Exactly one year later Talbot won the world manufacturers’ title and the team packed up for good. How did your Prodrive connection come about? By 1984 David Richards made a deal with Porsche to run their cars on rallies with Rothmans support. It seemed the deal was just to run the cars but we soon discovered that a lot of engineering work was going to be required. When the Rothmans work ended Prodrive started in 1986 in its own right. There are still three or so of us working here in Banbury who started in those days, while many other current residents came along shortly afterwards. A lot of people at Prodrive are celebrating their 20th anniversaries this year! Subaru work started in 1989 when we were soon involved in British championship rallying. The first full world championship season was in 1992 and Subaru won its first world rally in 1993, in New Zealand. Is it true Subaru ‘blackmailed’ Prodrive by insisting that the Impreza rally programme would never happen unless the team first got a win with the Legacy? It is a fact that Prodrive were not given final clearance to move on to the Impreza programme at that time, even though we were completely gearing ourselves up to launching the Impreza Rally in Finland 1993 immediately afterwards. We know the Japanese were not comfortable to go with the Impreza before they had won with the Legacy. Luckily Colin won the rally so we will never know if the Japanese would have stuck to their guns. What was your experience in the Prodrive Formula 1 project? My work with Subaru rallying over all these years was only broken by the short spell working on the Prodrive Formula 1 project. At that time the Subaru World Rally Team had already won six world championships, and there was a long period when our drivers were either first or second in the drivers’ championship. I had been 50/50 about the thought of leaving rallying at the time but, looking back, seeing what was going on I now know we had something going that would have worked. We came very close to seeing it all work – it was very frustrating that it eventually caved in. In retrospect I was disappointed that the Formula 1 thing did not happen. We felt we failed because the goal posts got moved. We really believed we could by now have been on the starting grids with a competitive car on the way to being a fully- fledged Formula 1 team. And the future? This year the new Impreza has brought a whole new challenge to the rally team. Having lacked good results in the last couple of years it is almost like we were 15 years ago. We have once again got something to prove. There might not be much depth to the World Rally Championship entries at the moment, but there is certainly a lot of strength. Fords and Citroens are both very good cars … you have got people like Mr Loeb who is very difficult to beat, people like Mr Latvala who is going to be very difficult to beat. But I think our new car, with Petter and Chris, is going to win rallies regularly. I am confident that it won’t be too long before we are back winning rallies again. This month the Subaru World Rally Team is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the late Colin McRae’s first world rally win, and Subaru’s first world championship victory. MARTIN HOLMES spoke to Technical Director David Lapworth 18