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Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Monday, 15 December 2008

Suzuki pull out of world rallying

Suzuki's Per-Gunnar Andersson in action
Suzuki finished fifth in their debut World Rally Championship season

Suzuki have pulled out of the World Rally Championship after only one season because of the current global economic crisis.

The Japanese manufacturer started racing in the junior WRC in 2002 and moved to the senior field in 2007.

However, in a statement Suzuki said they had "decided to focus on the core business functions".

Their withdrawal follows Honda's decision earlier this month not to race in Formula One next season.

They, too, blamed the world's economic crisis for their decision and have set a January deadline to find a buyer or the team will close.

Rallying does not have anything like the budgets of F1, where a team like Honda can burn through 300m a year, and the sport also has a long-standing tradition of private entrants.

However, Suzuki's exit leaves just world champions Citroen, Subaru and Ford chasing the manufacturers' title next year.

Ford are one of the Detroit Big Three seeking a bailout from the US government while Citroen have announced job cuts in France.

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Suzuki finished fifth in their debut season as drivers Per-Gunnar Andersson and Toni Gardemeister helped the team accumulate a total of 34 points.

They added they will continue to support participants in the JWRC and also local motorsport events such as Swift Cup in Europe and the rest of the world.

"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," read a Suzuki statement.

"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 concluded to suspend the WRC activities from 2009."

According to former world rally supremo David Richards, Citroen, Ford and Subaru, his own team, are all 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," he said.

"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."

Frenchman Sebastien Loeb has dominated the WRC
Sebastien Loeb has dominated the WRC for five straight seasons

However, he said the WRC would survive Suzuki's demise.

"When I was competing there were two manufacturers," said Richards, who was a world championship-winning co-driver with Finland's Ari Vatanen in 1981. "It was Ford against Fiat in those days and it was still great competition.

"The rallies themselves are populated by numerous private competitors, we (his Prodrive company) ourselves support hundreds of private Subarus around the world and in fact participating in the world championship this year will be a number of them.

"So it's not purely about the manufacturers and it should never be considered as that," he added. "It (Suzuki's departure) is disappointing for the short term for the championship whilst it restructures itself for 2010 onwards."

Rallying also has a problem that F1 experienced not so long ago, that of one dominant driver and team making the outcome of races so predictable that spectator interest starts to wane.

F1 had it with now-retired Michael Schumacher, who won five titles in a row with Ferrari between 2000 and 2004. Rallying has Citroen's Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, who ended this year with his fifth successive championship and a record 11 wins from 15 starts.

"You can't complain about Sebastien," said Richards. "He's one of the best drivers that we have ever seen. He's extraordinary but that's something else we have to face up to."

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see also
Cost-cutting plan agreed for F1
10 Dec 08 |  Formula One
Honda will assist buyer - Mosley
10 Dec 08 |  Formula One
Big teams pledge to remain in F1
06 Dec 08 |  Formula One
Global crisis ends Honda F1 era
05 Dec 08 |  Formula One
Hard-up GM to sell Suzuki stake
17 Nov 08 |  Business
Suzuki reveal 2008 rally line-up
17 Dec 07 |  Rallying

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