Akio Toyota may have retired from being president of Toyota, but he appears to be active as ever when it comes to promoting cars. And it’s not just cars from his own company, which his grandfather founded, that he’s promoting. Not satisfied with showing up at a rally behind the wheel of a Honda, it has also been revealed that Toyoda-san, still a chairman at Toyota, is helping Subaru return to the World Rally Championship.
At the recent Acropolis Rally, it was revealed that FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem had met with Akio Toyoda to ask for help attracting more carmakers to WRC. “It’s not a secret I had a good meeting with Akio Toyoda, and I ask him what we can do [about bringing manufacturers into the WRC] and I listened to someone who is passionate. And he mentioned Subaru,” Ben Sulayem said in an interview with Dirtfish. “They own a percentage of Subaru and they are going to support an initiative of Subaru entering. And I feel someone like him, when he speaks, he speaks with confidence,” he added.
Subaru last competed in WRC in 2008, pulling out of the sport as a result of the global financial crisis. Since then, they’ve discontinued the venerable EJ20 and the WRX STI. It’s a moot point anyway, since WRC cars are now built to Rally1 spec and no longer based on a production chassis. They’re silhouette race cars, with bodies vaguely designed to resemble a road car but built over a tubular spaceframe chassis. It’s something Subaru could do and drape the WRX body over.
What’s more challenging is the fact that engine specs require a turbo 1.6-liter mated to a third-party hybrid system. Subaru doesn’t have a motor that fits those requirements, but once again it’s Toyoda-san to the rescue. According to Ben Sulayem, Toyota could give Subaru the engine. “I see positive signs from the chairman of Toyota in convincing Subaru to come back and providing the engine,” he told Dirtfish.
Of course, Toyota already competes in in WRC with the Yaris. There are only two other OEMs, Hyundai and Ford, and Toyota is pretty dominant right now. A Subaru entry with a Toyota-supplied engine could upset the Yaris’ success, currently tallied at four Driver Championships and three Manufacturer Championships since returning to WRC in 2017.
Fans would no doubt welcome Subaru’s WRC comeback. Even if the Rally1 specs don’t have much to do with the street car, the action would give the new WRX some much-needed street cred with enthusiasts. Who wouldn’t love to see the blue and yellow banner flying again?
Toyota owns 20 percent of Subaru, but it would still be generous of Toyota to give Subaru the tools and blessing to compete directly against the Yaris and possibly steal its thunder. But it seems that if the reports are true, Akio Toyoda was speaking, as he so often does, not as a Toyota chairman but as a real car guy with some extra pull.