One of the biggest questions that remains unanswered as rally fans look ahead to the 2019 Australian Rally Championship is whether Molly Taylor and the factory Subaru do Motorsport squad will be on the entry list for round one.Peter Whitten looks at the likely scenario ….
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Subaru Australia have perhaps the greatest history in Australian rallying, having won the coveted national championship a record 10 times in succession, from 1996 until 2005.
After a 10-year hiatus, the company returned to the ARC in 2016 and took a surprising championship victory, a last-hurrah win that saw Molly Taylor take her first national title.
Taylor’s win came in a Group N, standard production WRX, something which Subaru would have been more than a little relieved about.
While the company never really expected to win the title first time out, beating Simon Evans in an ageing Impreza WRX at least proved that the newer model had reliability and a bullet-proof DNA built into it.
In hindsight, however, it’s pretty easy to see that the 2016 title was the only one that the current WRX would ever win.
Production cars only seem to be getting bigger, and that was never going to bode well for the WRX.
The Rex is now a big car, and weighs in at around 200 kilograms more than the current breed of rally winners – including the Skoda Fabia R5 and the Toyota Yaris AP4.
Subaru .... Do they, or Don't they in 2019?
At a treacherously wet Rally Tasmania in mid-winter, the Subaru really did look like a boat as it ‘floated’ down the stages, water streaming from its wheels and mud flying in all directions.
Aside from now being too big and overweight though, there are several reasons why I don’t expect to see Subaru Australia fronting up to round of the ARC in 2019.
Subaru are yet to even have their review after the 2018 season and, just two weeks from Christmas, surely this is telling.
We’ve all talked up Subaru’s involvement in the ARC over the last three years, and rightly so. The championship needs all the manufacturer support it can get, but in reality, the Subaru do Motorsport effort was never really a full-on factory assault.
Sure, Molly Taylor is a contracted Subaru driver and the company has put in significant amounts of money, but it’s never been a full ‘factory’ effort.
Les Walkden Rallying, supported by Subaru Australia, is closer to the mark.
Both parties have done an exceptional job with the hand they’ve been dealt – both in terms of finances, and the machinery they have to operate with.
A two-car Toyota team will make it even tougher for Subaru in 2019.
One must remember, however, that Subaru Australia are a distributor of Subaru cars, they are not funded by Subaru Japan.
Hence, any motorsport effort is going to be hampered by a smaller than desired budget.
Add in to the mix that Toyota has announced a full factory effort in 2019, running two cars for the Bates brothers, Harry and Lewis, and things only get more difficult for Subaru.
Why then, in both a business sense, and a competitive sense, would Subaru commit to another season in the ARC?
Not only will they be running a big, heavy and largely uncompetitive car, they’d be doing so against the might of Toyota, Australia’s biggest selling manufacturer.
You can call it ‘taking your bat and ball and going home’ if you like, but in just about anyone’s language, this would surely be a case of shooting yourself in the foot.
Molly Taylor is a fan favourite at Australian Rally Championship events.
Subaru are stuck with what they’ve got, and that’s the cumbersome WRX. There’ll be no new Impreza or WRX platform for at least 18 months, possibly two years.
Looking into the crystal ball, Subaru’s smart move would probably be to ditch the ARC, sit on the sidelines until the end of 2020, and then weigh up their options moving forward.
By then, rules may have changed or, at the very least, the company will know what they need to do to be competitive in the ARC once again.
In a perfect world, Subaru may have also returned to the WRC by then.
I’d love to be proven wrong, but given the current hand of cards, it seems being a realist, rather than an optimist, may be closer to the mark.
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