The niche of developing bespoke vehicles for motorsport has been the forte of the British-based engineering firm Prodrive ever since the mid-1980s. At first tackling the world of rallying, the company soon branched out to circuit racing and with its expertise it wasn’t long before the biggest names in road car production sought Prodrive’s knowledge for tweaking even the most extreme of supercars. One example is the hydraulics within the active aero on the McLaren P1, with Prodrive developing the mechanisms for both the front and rear aero packages.
Often associated with many Rothmans-branded rally legends and multiple Subaru projects, Prodrive has asserted itself as a highly regarded advanced engineering firm that has built some of the most capable machinery ever to grace rally stages and race tracks. Having recently announced that the company is getting into bed with Renault by producing a 600bhp monster to compete World Rallycross, it doesn’t seem like Banbury-based Prodrive is slowing down.
Before the company’s latest project is unleashed, let’s take a stroll back down memory lane to highlight the all-time greats from the revered motorsport legends.
You can’t mention Prodrive without including the likes of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg in the same breath, all of whom at some point drove a Group A Impreza to WRC success.
Prodrive’s relationship with Subaru started with the Legacy, before attention was switched to the Impreza. The 555-branded Impreza won its first event in 1994 at the hands of Carlos Sainz before taking the WRC contructor’s title in 1995. Further Prodrive Imprezas subsequently took the 2001 and 2003 constructor’s titles to add to the rally pedigree of the Subaru road cars.
Using a 2.0-litre flat-four boxer engine tuned to around 330bhp, the ‘555’ Group A car had the help of a VF15 RHB52 turbocharger which reached maximum boost (three bar) at just 2500rpm. Sporting a set of gold rims now synonymous with Subaru’s motorsport heritage, the first rallying Impreza was a quintessential piece of rally history, vastly orchestrated by the minds at Prodrive.
In 2001, Prodrive decided to turn its hand to track racing and that sports cars would be the perfect route in. Having purchased a standard road-going Ferrari 550 Maranello, the engineers set about race-prepping the Prancing Horse to form a GTS racing car. Running its own private race team, Prodrive used the Ferrari up until 2004, winning numerous races in the FIA GT and American Le Mans series.
The highlight of this escapade came in 2003 when the 550 raced to a class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Very few engineering firms would have the talent or drive to take on such a challenge without a manufacturer’s backing, but the sheer excellence of workmanship invested in the Ferrari truly paid off for the firm, seeing as Aston Martin subsequently hired the outfit to head its own motorsport division soon after.
The cooking versions of the first generation Impreza have a place within many of our hearts and potentially the greatest variation was fettled by Prodrive. Known as the P1 (Prodrive One), this limited-edition rally car for the road was strictly a UK model with only 1000 examples built. Choosing the WRX Type R STI chassis due to its stiffer coupe layout, the suspension setup was tweaked to deal with the quality of British roads and power was also increased to a healthy 276bhp.
Built during an era when two British drivers won WRC titles behind the wheel of Prodrive-built rally cars, the P1 is a true B-road hero and has begun to appreciate in value due to its ties with the motorsport world. It also showed that Prodrive could easily turn its hand to road car tinkering, opening the door to some serious interest from other aspirational/jealous manufacturers.
The Isle of Man record up until 2014 for a four-wheeled vehicle was set by a race-prepared Rover SD1 in 1992. Subaru decided this needed rectifying, and sent a mostly standard WRX STI around the road course. Safely beating that record, the company decided to call in Prodrive to produce a one-off time attack monster to have a pop even at the bike record.
Using a heavily modified 2.0-litre powertrain from Subaru’s WRC programme, the car developed 592bhp which when combined with active aero and a completely bespoke suspension setup made for a car that almost matched the suicidal speeds of the bikes. With rally driver Mark Higgins at the wheel, Prodrive’s creation managed an average speed of 128.73mph - an astonishing feat considering the bike record is 133.962mph.
Unfortunately, Subaru’s ‘lease’ at the TT has expired so it may be a while before we see Prodrive take on the mountain course again.
After Prodrive’s Le Mans success with the 550 GTS, Aston Martin drafted the firm in to reassert the marque back to the top of sports car racing. Competing within the FIA GT1 category from 2005-2011, the DBR9 took its name from the successful DBR1 racer of the 1950s which won at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. This success was furthered by the DBR9 which took class victories at Le Mans in 2007 and 2008. Unlike many of the bespoke motorsport creations from Prodrive, the Aston retained the basic chassis and engine from the DB9 road car but used carbonfibre bodywork, front and rear diffusers and a large rear wing.
The 5.9-litre V12 was tuned to 600bhp which - when coupled with the 1100kg kerbweight - resulted in a 0-60mph time of just 3.4 seconds. 16 of these endurance racers were made and provided a platform for Aston Martin to develop its motorsport involvement, with the Vantage GTE furthering success on track as well as inspiring the latest generation of the company’s hardcore road cars like the Vantage GT8.
After initial reviews suggested that the stunning Brera was a bit caught between being a sports car and a comfortable GT, the UK branch of Alfa Romeo decided that the V6-powered beaut needed to be shunted more toward the former. After gaining permission by Alfa HQ, Prodrive was given the job of moulding the Brera into something a more performance- focused.
And so spawned the creation of the Brera S (the S meaning ‘Speciale’), with a retuned chassis sporting new Eibach springs, Bilstein dampers and overall tweaks in geometry which brought the car on par with its contemporaries. Trumping its rivals tenfold in terms of styling but with a much improved drive, the Brera was finally the car it should have been from the factory.
Only 500 examples were produced and the Alfa should now make for an appreciating limited-edition future classic in the coming years. Like the P1, this is a Prodrive project ‘normals’ can actually buy.
What’s your personal Prodrive highlight? Do you agree with our list? Comment with your thoughts and suggestions below!