Before Subaru entered the World Rally Championship in the Nineties, it was little more than an obscure Asian automaker. Though its rallying efforts helped to put it on the map, Subaru has decided to ditch the WRC this season. But another little-known Asian automaker may be ready to pick up what Subaru is throwing away. That company is Malaysian automaker Proton. And it's not as ridiculous as you may think.
The state-owned enterprise has a strong customer base in Asia, and is the largest automaker in the Muslim world. Proton also owns Lotus, which brings the parent company a considerably performance engineering knowledge base to tap into. Subaru's former partner Prodrive is looking for a new client. And to cap things off, now unemployed former champion Petter Solberg (who used to drive for Subaru), is now rumored to be signing on to Proton's rally team. Together with motorsport garage MEM, Proton has been busy preparing an S2000-spec rally car based on its Satria Neo hatchback for the lower-level Intercontinental Rally Championship, and if plans to switch the WRC to a modified "S2000+" formula come through, it could pave the way for Proton to mount an assault on the WRC by 2010, as the brand is eager to expand outside its regional market and establish itself in Europe.
Petter Solberg is in talks with Proton over a potential World Rally Championship programme in 2010.
The 2003 world champion met with the Malaysian manufacturer's directors last week and is believed to be looking at a part-time campaign this season, coupled with testing and development work on the Satria S2000 for next year.
He is due to test a MEM-built S2000-spec car at some point next month, with a view to a deal for 2010, but Solberg says nothing has been finalised yet.
"The Proton is a nice car, it's a very detailed car," he told Autosport. "I met with them and that's it. For the future, it's hard to say."