TOKYO // Fuji Heavy Industries is withdrawing its Subaru team from the world rally championship due to the global economic crisis. Subaru join fellow Japanese automaker Suzuki Motor Corp, which also announced its exit this week. Their exit leaves just world champions Citroen, owned by PSA Peugeot Citroen, and cash-strapped Ford Motor Co- whose WRC side are sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority - chasing the manufacturers' title next year.
"Our business environment has changed dramatically due to the rapid deterioration of the global economy," Fuji Heavy chief executive Ikuo Mori said in Tokyo. "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," a tearful Mori said. Automakers all over the world are under severe pressure to find ways to reduce spending as a sudden downturn in global car demand knocks profitability. Japan's No 2 automaker, the Honda Motor Co, quit Formula One racing this month for similar reasons, saying it needed the cash for its core carmaking business.
Rallying does not have anything like the budgets of Formula One, where a team like Honda can burn through $500 million (Dh1,836m) a year, and the sport also has a long-standing tradition of private entrants. The Subaru team boss David Richards had said on Monday that Citroen, Ford and Subaru were all assessing their participation on an ongoing basis and that nothing could be taken for granted in the current climate. "Subaru's departure from the World Rally Championship is a great loss as it is one of the sport's icons," said David Richards, whose British-based Prodrive company ran the team. "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." Established in 1989, Subaru used rallying to transform their brand image, winning the world title for three years in a row between 1995 and 1997.
Their drivers include both of Britain's late champions, McRae and Burns, as well as Spanish great Carlos Sainz. But they have fallen on hard times in recent years, with Norwegian Petter Solberg taking their last world title in 2003. They finished third out of six teams in the championship this year and last won a rally in 2005. Prodrive, who also run Aston Martin's Le Mans sportscar programme and Ford's V8 team in Australia, aim to redeploy as many staff as possible in other areas of their business operations as well as attending to other rally clients. "Together with Subaru, Prodrive's commitment to its customer rally teams will also continue unabated for 2009 and beyond," the company, 40 percent owned by Kuwait's The Investment Dar, said in a statement. "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." Prodrive, who have sold nearly 500 rally cars to competitors and independent teams in 47 countries in the last 15 years, said the Subaru world rally team accounted for no more than 20 percent of their turnover. * Reuters