Subaru is open to a return to the Australian Rally Championship, despite stepping away from the sport when its production-based WRX proved uncompetitive for outright victories.
Speaking to Torquecafe at the launch of the new Crosstrek small SUV, Subaru Australia managing director, Blair Read, said that the sport remains a vital part of the brand’s image even as its involvement has waned. The Japanese brand hasn’t been involved in the top-level of the sport since 2008, which means the current-generation WRX can no longer claim any direct rally connection.
As a brand Subaru has focused on a more premium image in the Australian market, pushing its highly-equipped SUV models including the Forester and Outback, rather than leaning on its sportier WRX as it did in the past.
Asked if the company’s ambitions have changed, and therefore if it was still interested in a rallying return, Read made it clear that a return to the special stages remains an option.
“I think you keep looking at opportunities,” Read said. “We’re looking at a few things in the space of how that whole area, whether it’s rally or motorsport, how it supports the current model range and the DNA. We’re doing some support at a competitor level to help enable competitors into the Australian Rally Championship, so we’re still dabbling in the background with a couple of things. And there might be a couple of things on the horizon. Never say never.
“It’s an amazing legacy, so one of the key decisions behind that is, if you’re going to do it you need to do it properly.”
Subaru Australia has 2016 ARC champion Molly Taylor on its books as a brand ambassador, but hasn’t provided a rally program for her, so she has successfully pursued a drive in the Extreme E series.
Despite the increasing time period between Subaru’s glory days in rally and current customers, Read is confident that the connection is still there, but said it remains a challenge to find the “right fit for right product.”
He added: “We keep looking at things and there’s still such a strong passion and a strong link there that if you ask the average person in the street ‘What car do you think of when you think of rally?’ Most will probably say a blue Subaru with gold wheels. Yes, it’s a growing timeframe but [the connection] is so strong people still remember it.”
Importantly, Read noted that the ARC’s Rally2/AP4 regulations mean it would be unlikely for the production-based WRX program, that was successful with Taylor previously, to compete for outright victories.
“It’s gone away from being production-based, which means it’s a very different formula for regulations,” Read said. “That’s not to say it’s impossible, it’s not the same as it was with production cars. Never say never.”