Background & Formation
RalliSpec Ltd. grew out of three friends' racing activities and shared interest in motorsport technology and innovation. David Anton, Jorge Coombs, and Andrew Coombs initially based their race preparation activities out of the Coombs family garage. Early projects included preparing and supporting a V-Twin Honda motorcycle ridden with great success by Andrew in road racing events at Bridgehampton and Loudon. However, it was the decision to prepare a Toyota Celica ST165 for SCCA Prorally competition that ultimately drove the trio out of the family garage and into a dedicated workshop. This decision was also the inspiration necessary for the three to form a company that would take advantage of their combined expertise. With little more than a tiny workshop space, a bare minimum of working capital, and a passion for motorsports RalliSpec Ltd. was born.
The company focus was Subarus from the very beginning. In 1997 they had been introduced by contacts within Subaru of America to a prototype for an upcoming model, the 2.5RS. Already familiar with Subaru's rally successes overseas, the three friends instantly recognized the potential interest by enthusiasts for the new model as well as the car's lack of performance, in which they saw opportunity. The following year, during the attendance of an SAE event given by Subaru of America they connected with their first clients, a dedicated group of local Subaru owners eager to modify their new cars for autocross, rally, drag racing, and street performance.
The Early Years (1998-2001)
In late 1998 and early 1999 they began taking their first clients and selling Subaru performance parts to help offset the workshop's expenses. WRX parts fiche obtained from the UK were carefully researched and an OEM-based line of performance upgrades was born. Owner David Anton purchased a new Subaru 2.5RS in March of 1999 to serve as a development mule for a range of custom parts as well. The lineup would eventually include a stainless cat-back exhaust, a cold air intake, an oil cooler kit, a battery relocation kit, an intercooled low-boost turbo kit, and a rally light bar. All were engineered and manufactured in-house.
RalliSpec Ltd. was incorporated in November 1999 as the company began to grow. Early the following year Gen Kelly joined the team as office manager. The product line continued to expand and in February of 2000 the company introduced Whiteline suspension components to the Subaru market in the US. Directors David Anton and Jorge Coombs also visited Prodrive in the UK around this time to set up business relations. In May of 2001 on advice and with assistance from Toshi Azuma (later to become head of SWRT and then Subaru manufacturer principal) RalliSpec began importing hard-to-find Subaru and STI parts from Japan. Extensive knowledge of the JDM Subaru/STI parts line and their interchangeability with North American models would become the basis for the company's success in later years.
The service side of the business was growing too. The bulk of the work was suspension setup for trackday and autocross competitors but there was a need for increased power in the anemic RS and RalliSpec was frequently tasked with fitting (and correcting) the poorly designed turbocharger and supercharger kits that had cropped up on the market. Looking for a better solution, RalliSpec in 2000 became one of the first companies to successfully transplant a WRX/STI engine into the normally aspirated USDM Impreza platform.
RalliSpec entered their first stage rally event, the Maine Forest Rally, in August of 2000 with David Anton in the driver's seat of the ST165 and Andrew Coombs co-driving. Teething problems with the car shut down their first effort after only a half dozen stages. However, in March 2001 the team took their first victory at the Ocoee Stages Clubrally event (part of Cherokee Trails Prorally). The following month they took on their first customer rally program, preparing a 2002 WRX for ProductionGT. It would be one of the first USDM WRX's on the stages in North America outside of the factory-supported efforts. The same car would be converted to Group N trim in 2002 for driver Mark Utecht who would succefully pilot the car to numerous class victories in national events over the next several years.
The Later Years (2002+)
Jorge and Andrew Coombs stepped down as directors of the company in December of 2001 to pursue other career paths. David Anton took control of 100% of the company and relocated it to a larger space in Hainesport, NJ. Financial difficulties demanded a move away from the small-scale parts production that had been a major part of the company's success early on. However, mid-2002 the company introduced the Type RA gearset to the US market as an economical solution to the early WRX 5-speed weaknesses. It was an instant success and performance transmission parts and service would be the core of RalliSpec's business operations for almost a decade to follow. Initially the gearsets were offered with a cryogenic strengthening treatment, but several years later an Isotropic Super Finish® would become standard. In January 2007, after relocating to a larger unit within the same Hainesport Industrial Park, the company invested in the technology to REM ISF® process components in-house.
RalliSpec was also active in providing engine development services and tuning. Having met David Power (the founder of EcuTek) on their UK trip in 2000, RalliSpec was already aware of his efforts to develop Subaru ECU programming software. When EcuTek was released in 2002 RalliSpec was one of the first in line. With a low-cost tuning option came infinite possibilities for dramatically increasing power outputs of the turbocharged Subaru models. Engine development became a more significant aspect of the company's operations. One of the first "hybrid" EJ257 shortblock with EJ207 heads, built by RalliSpec, was delivered to the rally team of Luis Alayza in Peru who would use it to win the famous Rally of the Incas in 2004. Within a few years RalliSpec begain building the well regarded Street Spec shortblock as a solution to the STI's growing piston ring land issue.
The end of 2001 also marked a re-direction in the company's rally efforts. The ST165 was put up for sale and a WRX purchased as the basis for a Group N STI. Preparation of the car took a slow pace but finally in July 2004 the car was entered in the Maine Forest Rally as a national competitor. In their second event out, Ojibwe, the team scored a podium finish and placed 5th overall. At LSPR, the final round of the year, the team helped secure Nathalie Richard the co-driver's championship when she was without a ride and needed only a point or two to secure the title. In 2005 success was limited but a renewed effort in 2006 would secure them their first national rally victories (Rally New York USA on tarmac, Ojibwe Forest and Colorado Cog on gravel) as well as the Rally America Group N national championship.
2006 also saw RalliSpec enter into a technical partnership with Matt Iorio's Paladin Rally Team for the Open class championship. RalliSpec provided engine and driveline development services (and later suspension) to the team starting mid 2006. Iorio immediately went out and took two straight outright victories (STPR and Baie De Chaleurs) and 3 subsequent podium finishes putting the pressure on the Subaru factory team to raise their game. Iorio would go on to take the North American Rally Championship but a poor start to the year (prior to RalliSpec's involvement) meant that the Rally America driver's championship was out of reach. The team wrapped up the final round by entering a two car team with RalliSpec director David Anton driving Iorio's spare car. Despite difficulties coming to grips with the car's handling, he managed to run as high as 3rd overall before retiring from the event.
In 2006 RalliSpec established themselves as the official North American distributor for RS&SP suspension systems which brought with it an expanded involvement with other top rally teams. RalliSpec provided suspension expertise (and later gearbox services) to Matthew Johnson while he secured two consecutive ProductionGT national championships (2006 and 2007). In 2007 director David Anton had put aside his own driving efforts to focus on managing the parnerships established with Iorio and Johnson. At the end of 2007 a decision to build a new Team RalliSpec car was made with Matthew driving and Hankook providing tire support. The car debuted at the Olympus Rally finishing a strong 5th overall despite gearing limitations on the very high speed stages. Another strong finish at STPR, this time on the podium, secured the team a place in the X Games rally competition. The team made a strong showing there despite a serious lack of funding. Ultimately, conflicts over management of the team and its financial condition led to the team disbanding after the X Games. RalliSpec returned as a technical partner to Matthew Johnson for the 2009 X Games competition supplying an engine & driveline package for Johnson's car at the very last minute. The team showed significant promise and were one of the quickest in the field during the practice sessions, but a loss of driver concentration during qualifying led to a big off that destroyed all of their hard work.
Another partnership with the two car rally team of Pat Moro and Timothy Rooney helped Moro to the 2010 Super Production national championship and secured both cars entrance into the X Games that year. RalliSpec supplied two custom built engines and PPG dogboxes to the team which had the ambitious plan of building two new cars to the new Global Rally Cross specifications. Unfortunately, Moro and Rooney were never able to fully sort out the cars for X Games or later GRC events and RalliSpec withdrew their support.
Also in 2010 the company was asked by Subaru of America to assist with engine and transmission development for the Pheonix Racing SRRT (Subaru Road Racing Team). Pheonix was shifting from the Legacy to the STI in the Continental Challenge Grand-Am road racing series and were starting to suffer engine and transmission reliability problems in the lengthy races. RalliSpec worked with the team to overcome these issues while also helping to develop their differential settings to minimize the negative handling effects of the factory all-wheel-drive system on the track. The partnership continues through to today with RalliSpec's responsibilities now limited primarily to maintaining the transmissions for the team. Pheonix secured their first victory with the STI in 2012 and looks strong for 2013.