Rally fans listen up: Suzuki has announced that it will be withdrawing from the FIA World Rally Championship for 2009, while Subaru's own rally team is rumoured to be close to making a similar announcement.
Suzuki has suspended its WRC commitment for next year's season as a response to "the contraction of the automotive sales caused by recent global economic turmoil". The extra cash freed up by moth-balling its works rally team will be used by Suzuki to develop new powertrains, improve manufacturing processes and increase the brand's environmental credentials - all of which are far less exciting than watching a WRC-spec SX4 getting sideways on a Finnish rally stage.
Subaru's rumoured withdrawal from the sport would be of even greater concern to rally die-hards, as the Japanese brand's long WRC history is responsible for winning over the hearts, minds and wallets of many a motorsport-obsessed car fan. Not only that, it also played a huge marketing role in establishing Subaru as a maker of solid and unshakable AWD machinery with a motorsport DNA that filtered down to nearly every model in the range.
A formal announcement has yet to be made. Subaru finished the 2008 Manufacturers' Championship in third place, so we're keeping our fingers crossed that they stay committed to the series.
With Suzuki out and Subaru expected to follow, that leaves Mitsubishi as the only Japanese marque with a factory-backed team in the WRC. But that doesn't mean Suzukis and Subarus will disappear from rally stages worldwide entirely. Both manufacturers will continue to support the numerous Subie and Suzi-driving privateer teams with parts and technology back-up regardless of whether they field their own cars or not.