Toshihiro Arai and Subaru are like Keith Richards and a guitar. One never goes without the other. Arai has been behind the wheel of a Subaru rally car since the late nineties and played a part in every chapter of the company’s long history in rally. Needless to say, we needed to hear more!
Arai-San, can you take us back to the moment your relationship with Subaru started?
When I first started out in rally, I tested both the Subaru and the Mitsubishi. Although the Subaru was a more complex and challenging car and, at the time, maybe not as fast as the Mitsubishi, I immediately felt right at home with it. Compared to the Mitsubishi’s inline four cylinder the Subaru’s horizontal boxer lay-out was more complex and it took some time to get used to but I felt this company had ambition and was going places.
You already mentioned Subaru’s signature boxer engine, what made this lay-out so special?
It gives a Subaru it’s signature characteristic. Did you know that in the second world war the Subaru company constructed and developed the infamous Zero fighter plane? That plane already had a flat boxer engine. So, they knew a thing or two about boxer engines for a very long time.
For a long time you have been collaborating with the Subaru factory team putting you in the hot seat of some very famous machinery such as the Subaru “555”’ Gr.A and the first Impreza WRC. Is there any that stuck with you specifically?
You’ve mentioned it already. The 1998 spec Impreza WRC was an incredible car. Its coupe shape turned it into a very glamorous car. It was also the inspiration for the legendary 22B. I definitely feel it’s one of the best cars they ever made!
From being part of a factory team to running your own. How big was the contrast between driver and driver/owner?
Oh, it’s so hard. When I was just driving I had it very easy. If I crashed, it was unfortunate, but it wasn’t really my problem. Now, I’m responsible for every bolt or move done by the team. Everything is my responsibility. If I crash, it comes out of my own pocket. If I make a deal with the wrong oil company and the engine breaks, that my fault as well [laughs].
Speaking of oil, you’ve been a partner with Motul for a very long time. When did that relationship start and how significant is it and has it been through the years?
The first time I used Motul oil was when I was running the Subaru Impreza GC8 in ’98 or ’99. It was a great car, but Subaru had given it such a boost in power that it caused me a lot of problems with the engine and transmission. Then at one point I used Motul and suddenly the car ran reliably for the rest of the season. Since that point I never really looked back.
In your career, you team up with many great drivers. You must have so many stories about guys like Colin McRae, Richard Burns or Petter Solberg.
[Laughs] Oh, I have so many. Colin (McRae) was an amazing driver and an amazing person. He was very easy going but when he got into a car he just went for it. Richard was quite the opposite. He was definitely not the easiest person to work with. I don’t mean that in a bad way. He was always very precise and very nervous during rallies. In my later seasons with Subaru I had the pleasure of working with both Petter and Tommi. It was great to see them getting along so well and I believe it really was because of Tommi’s help, who was a specialist in setting up the car, that Petter became world champion.