Subaru withdrawal creates World Rally Crisis

Subaru pulls out of WRC

More news to shock to the motorsport world with confirmation that Subaru has pulled out of the World Rally Championship, with immediate effect.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Chief Executive of Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru’s owner), Ikuo Mori said, “Our business environment has changed dramatically due to the rapid deterioration of the global economy.”

“In order to optimise the management resources and to strengthen the Subaru brand further, Fuji Heavy decided to withdraw from WRC activities at the earliest time,” an emotional Mori explained.

Subaru’s latest rally car only made its debut in May, at the Acropolis Rally in Greece. The company has a strong and loyal following in the WRC and it draws heavily on its rallying heritage to promote its brand. Subaru’s withdrawal leaves just two major manufacturers chasing the world title in 2009. Suzuki also quit the WRC earlier this week. Now, only Citroen and Ford remain with factory backed teams. It will be fascinating to see how the WRC copes with these latest developments.

Australia’s Chris Atkinson now joins Jenson Button in looking for a drive, after Honda’s withdrawal from Formula One.

Factory backed racing teams seem to be dropping like nine pins. With the US Government keeping its auto industry on life support, it begs the question, will Ford be next?

UPDATE: Statement from SWRT website can be read below.

UPDATE (17 December): Statement from Subaru Australia has been added to the end of this article.

Source: Reuters & Subaru World Rally Team

Subaru to withdraw from World Rally Championship

16 December 2008—Subaru has announced its decision to withdraw from the 2009 World Rally Championship.

This sudden decision was in response to the widespread economic downturn that is affecting the entire automotive industry, and follows Suzuki’s withdrawal announced yesterday.

After 20 years in the sport, during which time the Prodrive-run Subaru World Rally Team has won six World Rally Championship titles, this is not only sad news for Subaru and the team, but also for millions of rallying fans around the world. Thanks to its highly successful World Rally Championship programme, Subaru has developed into one of the world’s most widely recognised and evocative automotive brands.

Prodrive 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.”

For many, Prodrive and Subaru are synonymous, given the long-standing and close association between the two companies. However, while the Subaru World Rally Team historically represented a significant part of Prodrive’s business, today it accounts for no more than 20 per cent of the company’s turnover.

Prodrive will look to redeploy as many of the rally team as possible in other areas of its business operations, which have grown to span advanced engineering and manufacturing for the automotive, defence, marine and aerospace industries, in addition to other motorsport programmes.

Despite the current economic downturn, Prodrive’s automotive engineering business remains buoyant as it works with vehicle manufacturers to accelerate the development of next generation fuel-efficient vehicles and alternative fuel technologies.

Together with Subaru, Prodrive’s commitment to its customer rally teams will also continue unabated for 2009 and beyond. Over the past 15 years, Prodrive has sold close to 500 rally cars to more than 400 private competitors and independent rally teams in 47 countries. During this time, Prodrive’s customers have won five consecutive Production World Rally Championships and countless international rallies. In 2008, Prodrive-supported customer teams have claimed eight rally championship titles around the world.

Looking ahead, 2010 will see the introduction of new World Rally Championship technical regulations, which provide Prodrive with an opportunity to prepare for re-entering the championship with a new team and build on its 24 years of World Rally Championship experience and success.

SWRT driver Chris Atkinson

The future of Australian driver Chris Atkinson remains unclear.

Subaru World Rally Team Withdraws

Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), the maker of Subaru vehicles, has announced the withdrawal of Subaru World Rally Team (SWRT) from the World Rally Championship (WRC).

FHI has participated in the WRC over the past 19 years together with Prodrive, a United Kingdom-based motorsports and automotive engineering group.

SWRT won three manufacturers championships and three driver’s championships, which FHI says helped enhance the value of the Subaru brand as well as the sales expansion of its vehicles worldwide.

However, FHI says the business environment has dramatically changed due to the quick deterioration of the global economy.

In order to optimize management resources and further strengthen the Subaru brand, FHI decided to withdraw from the WRC.

FHI will continue to support teams and drivers that participate in the Production World Rally Championship, or the Group N category.

The President and Chief Executive Officer of Fuji Heavy Industries, Mr Ikuo Mori, said reaching the decision had been an extremely difficult task, not least with regard to the countless Subaru fans that for many years have cheered the legendary Subaru blue Impreza World Rally Car.

“We would like to express our sincere appreciation for our fans’ strong and loyal support worldwide. They will remain an invaluable treasure for us,” he said.

Nick Senior, Managing Director, Subaru Australia, said: “While sad, the brave decision by Mr Mori reflects the seriousness of the global economic conditions.

“I applaud Mr Mori on his leadership in making this strong decision, which was obviously a difficult and emotional one, given our long and successful heritage in the sport.”

FHI has not commented on any future arrangements regarding current SWRT drivers Petter Solberg and Australian Chris Atkinson.

Subaru World Rally Team achievements:

  • 1990 – Start full scale entry to WRC from Safari Rally, with the Legacy, known in Australia as Liberty
  • 1993 – Legacy won first overall at Rally New Zealand
  • 1994 – full participation in WRC
  • 1995-1997 – won the WRC Manufacturers crown three times consecutively
  • 1995 – Colin McRae won WRC1995 Driver’s title
  • 2001 – Richard Burns won WRC2001 Driver’s title
  • 2003 – Petter Solberg won WRC2003 Driver’s title

After it started participation in the WRC in 1990, Subaru achieved 47 wins in 19 seasons.