Subaru’s aim: rally the troops

The Advertiser - Motoring - - NEWS - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER

AF­TER a decade on the side­lines, Subaru is con­sid­er­ing a re­turn to motorsport in Aus­tralia to pol­ish its im­age.

The all-wheel drive brand was un­beaten for 10 straight years in the Aus­tralian Rally Cham­pi­onship be­fore walk­ing away from com­pe­ti­tion and there are strong signs that it in­tends to re­turn.

The most ob­vi­ous in­di­ca­tor is the ar­rival of 10 spe­cial STI pocket rock­ets (pic­tured) that can’t be reg­is­tered for road use.

“We’ve been think­ing for a long time about a new motorsport pro­gram,” says Subaru Aus­tralia CEO Nick Se­nior. “We get a lot of peo­ple want­ing to see the blue cars in their warpaint.”

The brand, a smaller player in the highly com­pet­i­tive lo­cal show­room, needs to have a sig­nif­i­cant point of dif­fer­ence. It achieved that via its Im­preza WRX rally pro­gram with cham­pion driv­ers, Cody Crocker and the late Pos­sum Bourne.

That suc­cess is still re­flected in an over­whelm­ing buyer pref­er­ence for WRC Blue paint­work on the cur­rent WRX, STI and BRZ sports mod­els.

Subaru is also work­ing hard on its show­room con­tenders af­ter go­ing back­wards through the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. It wound back qual­ity and held off in­vest­ing in new prod­ucts, although that has changed with the ar­rival of the latest Lib­erty and Out­back.

“Motorsport is one of those in­ter­est­ing ones be­cause it’s hard to mea­sure,” says Se­nior. “But it’s prob­a­bly not un­til you pull out that you re­alise just how im­por­tant it has been to Subaru. Not only in Aus­tralia but glob­ally. Our staff miss it. The deal­ers miss it.”

Most im­por­tantly, he says, cus­tomers have “a lot of own­er­ship”.

Subaru also pulled out of the World Rally Cham­pi­onship dur­ing the eco­nomic down­turn but it is show­ing signs of re­newed in­ter­est.

The latest lim­ited-edi­tion STI is $38,000, although that’s just the start­ing point be­cause they must have a rollcage fit­ted be­fore they can com­pete.

The price is $11,000 less than the equiv­a­lent road-go­ing Im­preza but full com­pe­ti­tion fitout would easily add $50,000.

The STI com­pe­ti­tion cars are the latest chap­ter in a motorsport story that goes back to 1984, when Se­nior was re­spon­si­ble for im­port­ing a few rally-only RX cars. They were fol­lowed by the Lib­erty RA RS and 25 cars for the Im­preza RS one-make rally se­ries.

The pay­back was sub­stan­tial. Barry Lowe won two ti­tles in an RX and Rob Herridge won in a Lib­erty, be­fore Subaru Aus­tralia be­gan its full fac­tory in­volve­ment through Bourne.

Se­nior says one of the STI cars has gone to a New Zealand buyer and another is be­ing set up for pro­mo­tional work at deal­er­ships and events in Aus­tralia. Rally team boss Les Walk­den has taken two to his Tas­ma­nian base.

“We have six that are still for sale. I’d like to see them com­pet­ing any­where,” he says.

He won’t con­firm an of­fi­cial come­back by Subaru Aus­tralia. “It’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity, be­cause motorsport is costly, to get the right re­turn on any in­vest­ment. We’ll keep look­ing at it.”

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