A car ahead of its time?

While debate rages about the future direction of the sport, one manufacturer might have been years ahead of the curve

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Rally1 vs Rally2 vs Rally2-plus: it’s a major area of debate for the future of the World Rally Championship.

An argument against basing the WRC’s premier class on Rally2 machinery is their B-segment foundations – a segment of cars that in the wider motor industry is dying, with the Ford Fiesta already out of production.

Small SUVs and crossovers have become increasingly big sellers – hence the Rally1 ruleset enabling the Ford Puma to join the field via ‘scaling’. A similar recommendation was made by the FIA Working Group for any future category.

So was the Suzuki SX4 WRC, which achieved little in its short spell in the WRC’s top flight, simply ahead of its time?

This shot from the Girardo & Co. Archive shows reigning JWRC champion Per-Gunnar Andersson drifting his SX4 over the undulating roads of Rally New Zealand in 2008, where he achieved the car’s best result at the time of sixth overall.

The SX4 was a little short and dumpy by the standards of the time, but bolt on a bit more aero and it wouldn’t look out of place by modern standards, would it?

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A simplistic design that could form the basis of a future Super 2000-type car – thought to be the direction top-flight WRC regulations were heading – the SX4 was plagued by unreliability in its first half-season. But there was good progress in the latter rounds. Andersson recorded two fifth-place finishes and team-mate Toni Gardemeister set the car’s first – and only – fastest stage time.

But at the end of the year, the plug was pulled. Suzuki – like Subaru, shortly afterwards – blamed the global economic downturn.

A team led by Suzuki legend Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima should have achieved more than it did. But maybe Michel Nandon’s departure from the technical management before the season even started was a sign that not all was well.

Or was it just a case of right place, wrong time?