What you need to know:
- Ben Sulayem’s comments on Subaru emerged from a meeting he had with Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda recently, who is actively trying to encourage more manufacturers to join the WRC.
- The FIA president suggested that a possible Subaru return could be aided by Toyota, which owns a stake in Subaru parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries.
There is excitement within the global rallying fraternity following the Federation Internationale de I' Automobile (FIA) President Emirati Mohammed Ben Sulayem announcement last week the possibility of Subaru returning to the World Rally Championship (WRC).
That the three-time WRC constructors’ winner Subaru (1995-1997) is considering a return to the championship is good news for all.
Subaru has a rich history in the WRC, producing three world champions, namely, Colin McRae (1995), Richard Burns (2001) and Petter Solberg (2003) before exiting at the end of 2008 due to the global financial crisis.
The name Subaru, especially the WRX Impreza STi, is like a religion to rallying purists. A fairly priced standard production car but powerful and extremely swift even in the old school variant of 25 years ago.
The blue coloured Subaru with a massive rear spoiler, gold plated spook rims remains a stand-out. It gives the "boy racer' vicarious thrill when chasing wind and girls.
Subaru revolutionised rallying, making history at the advent of the World Rally Car (WRC) era in 1997. This is only two years after the rally bug had caught up with the British fans following the success of McRae who became the first Briton and youngest world rally champion ever aboard a Subaru Impreza STi Group A machine in 1995.
Subaru's success can be traced to Dave Richards who was contracted by Fuji Heavy Industries to fine-tune and manage the Subaru World Rally Team (SWRT) programme from 1990 through his motorsport and advanced technology engineering company Prodrive, based in Banbury, Oxfordshire, England.
Richard engineered top WRC cars for SWRT and a less faster Group N customised version for customers around the world.
Other rally drivers used road going model for rally, making rallying cheap and attractive even for the budget driver.
Ben Sulayem, who succeeded Frenchman Jean Todt in December 2021 has been working hard to promote motorsports especially the WRC to see more manufacturers join the top tier level of competition like in the 1980s through 2000s.
The sport enjoyed an unforgettable golden era in late 1990s and 2000s when Subaru, Mitsubishi and Toyota formed the Japanese challenge against European teams, Peugeot, Seat, Skoda Ford and later Citroen.
It is about this time that Subaru built its portfolio from 1995 when McRae ruled the roost. Here at home Patrick Njiru had finished fourth overall and first in Group N in the Safari Rally a year earlier.
Since then the blue Subaru became a signature car for every rally driver. One could purchase a “mitumba” Group N Impreza, fix a roll cage, competition suspensions and tyres and be ready to rally. This standard car became the choice of privateers and the general public.
With the NextGen coming of age the blue Impreza's appeal gained traction and notoriety with some insurance companies refusing to insure the car which maimed and claimed lives of young people, mainly the inexperienced drivers. Subaru groupies still meet for fun and racing in many parts of the world.
Motorsports authorities are currently pushing for more manufacturers to join the WRC which is contested by two full time works teams from Toyota and Hyundai. Ford is represented through long-time partner M-Sport.
This push for more manufacturers' teams is aimed at including as many stakeholders as possible to assist with the formulation of the WRC’s 2027 technical regulations.
Ben Sulayem’s comments on Subaru emerged from a meeting he had with Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda recently, who is actively trying to encourage more manufacturers to join the WRC.
The FIA president suggested that a possible Subaru return could be aided by Toyota, which owns a stake in Subaru parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries.