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We seem to hear it annually, but talk of a Subaru return to the World Rally Championship in 2022 is starting to make more sense. For a start, it would mean that the Japanese giant would return to the WRC in the new hybrid era, where rally cars run on traditional engines on stages, but are electrically powered on road sections. Secondly, it would give Subaru enough time to set up a team, develop a car and perform sufficient testing in time for a competitive return – as rival Toyota has already done successfully. Recent media reports have suggested an M-Sport type operation, which in reality is similar to what Subaru had previously, under Prodrive. Former Peugeot, Subaru and Citroen engineering wizard, Xavier "FX" Demaison, has already been mentioned as a possible man behind the design of a new Subaru, in a team run out of (potentially) Norway, and headed by Petter Solberg. That would seem to indicate that young Oliver Solberg has a factory drive waiting for him, but with the driver market currently flooded, it would also leave the door open for some of the sport's more experienced hands to become part of the team and, more importantly, as test drivers.

Petter Solberg and Australian team-mate, Chris Atkinson at Rally Finland in 2005. Photo: Martin Holmes

Yet for all the hope and hype, talk is still just that, and until there's an official announcement on Subaru returning to rallying, we'll all be sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting with bated breath.
Having said all that, it continually amazes me that we haven't seen Subaru competing in the WRC since its shock departure when the global financial crisis hit in December 2008.
At the time, Subaru felt it had achieved its sporting and marketing objectives, and 11 years on, you'd have to say they were pretty spot on. Their cult following, more so than their success on the stages, is like nothing we've ever seen in rallying before, but it's also the very reason why the manufacturer should return.

Subaru driver Chris Atkinson in action at Rally Monte Carlo 2006.

Even today, 24 years since his only world title, Colin McRae is revered like no other driver. Similarly, Possum Bourne, 16 years after his death. While both drivers were exciting to watch and had that real mongrel in their approach to rallying, much of what made them household names was the Subaru name, the iconic blue and gold liveries, and that burbling sound from the Boxer engine. It staggers me that 11 years after they departed rallying, Subaru Japan hasn't seen the light and returned to the WRC.

A much-younger Oliver Solberg at Rally Japan in 2005. Photo: Martin Holmes

In an instant they would have an unmatched fan base, one that has been sitting idly for more than a decade, waiting for the company's head honchos to give another rally program the green light. It may not happen, but if it doesn't, you'd have to ask why?
Surely experiences from the past are telling Subaru that now is as good a time as any.
To be frank, the once heralded WRX is no longer a shadow of its former self – at least in the 'cult following' stakes. Returning to the WRC would not only do wonders for Subaru's performance image, but would almost certainly give their sales a real kick in the pants as well.

"FX" Demaison and Michel Nanden were part of Peugot's dominance in the early 2000s. Photo: Martin Holmes

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