Next year’s World Rally Championship (WRC) has become a three-horse race, with Suzuki announcing overnight that it is withdrawing
The Japanese carmaker, which entered the top echelon of the sport this year, cited the global automotive industry downturn and a need to focus on its core business.
It’s the second Japanese manufacturer to announce it’s quitting top-level motorsport because of the world financial crisis. Honda has quit Formula 1 and is trying to sell its team.
Though its SX4s were never outright contenders in the 2008 WRC, the Suzukis added a much-needed boost to a field that had dwindled to three manufacturers – Ford, Citroen and Subaru – bolstered by privateer Ford and Citroen outfits.
Suzuki finished fifth in the 2008 teams’ championship, fielding cars for Swede Per-Gunnar Andersson and Finn Toni Gardemeister.
In a statement announcing its withdrawal from the WRC, Suzuki said that in “responding to the contraction of the automotive sales caused by recent global economic turmoil, Suzuki has been promptly taking possible countermeasures, including the reassessment of its global production output.
"To secure its own business environment for tomorrow, the organisation reviews every aspect of the operations and decided to focus on the core business functions such as the manufacturing system, environment technologies and development of new-generation powertrains. As a result, Suzuki (will) suspend the WRC activities from 2009."
Ford and Citroen have both cut road car production in the face of falling sales, and Ford was one of the American Big Three carmakers which sought unsuccessfully to obtain a $(US)15 billion bailout package from the Federal Government.
Ford said needed the package only as a back-up should the economy not improve and its own financial reserves be used up.
Neither Ford nor Citroen has made any announcement about continuing in the WRC, but the BBC has quoted Subaru rally team owner David Richards as saying all three are “assessing their participation in the championship on an ongoing basis.
"It is beholden to motorsport to get its own house in order and make sure that motorsport programmes are cost effective and give good value for money so manufacturers see it as a positive way of investing their marketing spend.
"All forms of motorsport, and not just the world rally championship, have to be concerned about the manufacturer involvement currently. Whilst manufacturers are under such financial pressures in the normal marketplace, any discretionary spend is going to be avoided if at all possible."