The 1997 World Rally Championships saw a relaxing in the rules pertaining to vehicle modification. Subaru was the first team to take advantage of the leeway, bringing out the Impreza WRC. That machine featured all aluminum horizontal four cylinder turbo engine paired with a vertically mounted gearbox. The layout placed the gearbox in a balanced position behind the front axle, heightening manerverability and ultimately contributing to a Mnufactures Championship for that year.
The bulk of the improvements to the 1999 model centered around the engine and gearbox. Foremost was the adoption of an electronically controlled throttle system. This system converts the position of the throttle in to electronic signals, heightening throttle response. The Impreza WRC was also equipped with a 6-speed, semi-automatic gearbox. This system enables sudden shifting, such as from 6th to 1st gear. Work is also continuing on the development of an electronically controlled damper system.
The Impreza WRC is driven by J. Kankkunen, R. Burns and B. Thiry. Kankkunen and Burns finished in 1st and 2nd place respectively at both the 7th Argentina Rally and the 10th Finland Rally. The 8th Acropolis Rally was also taken by Burns, setting the scene for an intense contest in the latter half of the season.