2018 is shaping up as a make or break season for Subaru Australia and their involvement in the Australian Rally Championship.
Subaru's driver, Molly Taylor, surprised the establishment in 2016 when she won her first national championship on the manufacturer's return to top-level rallying in Australia, but since then, things have become more and more difficult.
The influx of new-generation AP4 cars is challenging Subaru's PRC-spec WRX STI more than ever before, and if the title is not secured by Taylor this year, we could well be seeing Subaru's swan song in the Australian Rally Championship.
The biggest hurdle facing Taylor and Subaru this year is the weight of the WRX.
At Rally Australia last November the car weighed in at a cumbersome 1449 kilograms, a considerable 219 kilograms more than the minimum weight requirement for AP4 cars.
Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read ahead of the 2018 rally season.
Subaru's official press release ahead of this year's ARC stressed that the "a big focus for the team in 2018 is finding efficiencies in the turbocharged WRX STI to remain competitive against the increasing prevalence of lightweight AP4 cars in the Championship".
And while some gains are likely to have been made since last year, bridging a gap of over 200kg isn't likely to happen.
Their rivals this year include the AP4 cars of Harry Bates (Toyota Yaris), Eli Evans (Mini Cooper) and Adrian Coppin (Peugeot 208) – all in late model cars that should have much more development left in the tank than Subaru's WRX.
So unless Subaru make the decision to switch from the current WRX to the more nimble XV (a variant of which Chris Atkinson has driven in the Chinese Rally Championship), it appears as though they're stuck with what they currently have – which is pretty much an up-specced standard production car.
When questioned by RallySport Magazine last year on the chances of entering an XV in Australia, Subaru’s Motorsport and National Corporate Affairs Manager, David Rowley, was tight lipped, other than to say:
"Obviously as the only factory team, we’d need to be competitive to make it worthwhile."
From the outside looking in, that doesn't bode well for the company's future in the ARC.
There's no doubting Molly Taylor's ability to wring every last ounce of speed out of the works WRX, but in an increasingly competitive ARC field, will that be enough?
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