Subaru could return to the World Rally Championship with Toyota's help

Subaru could return to the World Rally Championship with Toyota's help

Subaru built the reputation of its STI division by spending years on the top spot of the World Rally Championship (WRC) podium. The brand exited WRC in 2008 and hasn’t been back since, but it’s reportedly considering a comeback with help from partner and part-owner Toyota.

“It’s not a secret I had a good meeting with Mr. Akio Toyoda, and I ask [sic] him what we can do [about enticing more manufacturers into the WRC] and I listened to someone who is passionate. And he mentioned Subaru,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the president of WRC governing body Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), in an interview with website DirtFish spotted by our colleagues at The Drive.

Subaru chose not to replace the WRX STI in order to build electric cars, so its hypothetical WRC entry would likely be based on the standard WRX. We use the term “based” loosely, as modern rally cars share little more than a name and a vague silhouette with their street-legal counterparts; we’re far from the WRX STI models developed to compete in the WRC’s Group A category during the 1990s. Subaru would presumably compete in the Rally1 class, which is the sport’s top category, so whatever it races will be built around a spaceframe chassis.

Ben Sulayem cited the engine as the biggest hurdle standing in front of Subaru’s WRC entry.

“I see positive signs from the chairman of Toyota in convincing Subaru to come back and providing the engine, where Subaru’s issue is with the engine. It’s not with the car, it’s with the engine they have. And I can see some signs of optimism there, really,” he explained.

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There’s no word yet on which engine Toyota would supply Subaru, though the turbocharged three-cylinder that powers the GR Yaris Rally looks like the most likely candidate. It’s the only rally-ready engine in Toyota’s arsenal, and we can’t imagine the company will spare the time and the cost required to develop an engine from scratch just to prop up a rival. However, that would mean the days of flat-four-powered Subaru rally cars — and the distinctive exhaust note that you can recognize from miles away as it echoes off a mountain — won’t return. 

Ben Sulayem’s wish to see more manufacturers in WRC isn’t surprising. Feverishly popular during the 1980s, when Group B cars drew huge crowds of spectators to each event, the series has gotten smaller in recent years. Suzuki followed Subaru out in 2008, Citroën left after the 2015 season, and Volkswagen punched out at the end of the 2016 season. Toyota, Ford, and Hyundai are the only manufacturers still in.

“[Toyota] owns a percentage of Subaru and [it is] going to support an initiative of Subaru entering. And I feel someone like [Toyoda], when he speaks, he speaks with confidence. I hope that some of that will come. I feel more manufacturers are good,” Ben Sulayem added.

Whether any of it will come is up in the air. Subaru and Toyota haven’t commented on the report.

Subaru hasn’t competed in a WRC race since 2008, but the brand hasn’t fully abandoned rallying. Subaru Motorsports USA and partner Vermont SportsCar have enjoyed tremendous success in American Rally Association and Nitro Rallycross Series events since 2005.

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