Subaru is axing its World Rally Championship programme with immediate effect, leaving the series with just Ford and Citroen committed to the 2009 season.
Subaru has competed in the top flight of rallying since 1990, and it has used the Impreza (in various guises) since 1994. Subaru’s motorsport programme is credited with helping Subaru to become a cult performance manufacturer, a market far removed from its traditional rural customer base.
However, the global economic slowdown has forced Subaru to rethink its presence in the WRC. And rallying’s newly rubber-stamped technical regulations, due to be introduced in 2010, specify that the top teams will use a car based on the current Super 2000 specification of machinery.
This would, in effect, have forced Subaru to develop a brand new car, since the Impreza only exists in World Rally Car and more standard Group N forms.
The move is bad news for Prodrive, the Banbury-based engineering consultancy that introduced the brand to the sport and has been responsible for its efforts for the last 18 years.
Prodrive’s chairman, David Richards, said, “Subaru’s departure from the World Rally Championship is a great loss as it is one of the sport’s icons. The Subaru World Rally Team has created true champions such as Colin McRae and Richard Burns and its absence will be felt by many the world over. Although this decision closes a significant chapter in Prodrive’s history, our focus now turns to the future.”
Prodrive is insisting that Subaru’s team amounted to “no more than 20 per cent” of its turnover. It hopes to redeploy rally team staff to other areas of its business.
The WRC now looks desperately weak; Subaru’s withdrawal comes only days after Suzuki announced that it was pulling the plug on its fledgling SX4 WRC campaign.