Subaru used to cut a dashing figure in the World Rally Championship. Its bold blue sedans tore up the terrain, pawing their way through dirt, sand, and snow with abandon. After leaving the series over a decade ago, the time could now be ripe for the Japanese automaker's return.
In an interview with DirtFish at the recent Acropolis Rally, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem reported that Subaru could be interested in re-entering the WRC. "It’s not a secret I had a good meeting with [Toyota chairman] Akio Toyoda, and I ask him [sic] what we can do [about bringing manufacturers into the WRC] and I listened to someone who is passionate. And he mentioned Subaru," Sulayem said, adding "they own a percentage of Subaru and they are going to support an initiative of Subaru entering."
Subaru last competed in the WRC in 2008, before pulling out when the global financial crisis hit. Over the years, the brand scored three drivers' championships, in 1995, 2001, and 2003. It also scored manufacturers' titles in 1995, 1996, and 1997. While it hasn't been on the world stage of late, Subaru has nonetheless dominated American rallying over the last decade.
The World Rally Championship currently uses Rally1 regulations. The cars employ spaceframe chassis with silhouette bodies, so it would be straightforward for Subaru to build a competitor. While there is no firm indication of which model it could use as a basis for its entry, the current WRX is the obvious choice. The current model is quite bulky, but there's nothing stopping Subaru from scaling and tweaking the bodyshell to suit WRC competition.
The current model would stand out as a sedan in a sea of hatchbacks, but don't let that fool you. The WRX's wheelbase is less than two inches longer than Rally1 compact hatches like the Toyota GR Yaris and Hyundai i20 N. While Subaru has just revealed a new WRX rally car for American competition, it's not a car that could directly compete in the WRC, as it's based on a production chassis rather than a spaceframe design to Rally1 regulations.
Presently, Subaru doesn't build a suitable engine for WRC competition, but that's not expected to be a problem. According to Sulayem, Toyota may be able to provide Subaru with an engine for the project. That could save huge money for Subaru, entirely changing the business case of a potential rallying return.
Toyota itself competes in the WRC, so it may seem strange that it would support a rival to enter the championship. However, the sport badly needs new blood. Just three manufacturers make up the WRC, with Ford and Hyundai rounding out the group. Adding in Subaru would be a major boon, helping grow a competition that has increasingly struggled to pack out the field in recent years. It doesn't hurt that Toyota has a 20-percent stake in Subaru, either. Should another constructor enter the fray, it'd be in Toyota's best interest for it to be one whose success would still benefit the company.
Overall, a new manufacturer could only be a good thing for the WRC. Here's hoping Subaru can make a proud return and find some success along the way.
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