Pre-1973 - before the WRC
The term 'rally' in fact dates back to medieval times, when it referred to a kind of ceremonial event carried out by knights. The word 'rally' actually derives from 're-ally', meaning to gather again under a flag.
The first rally in a motorsport context was organised in 1911 by the Automobile Club de Monaco, the motor club that still hosts the famous Rally Automobile Monte Carlo and the Monaco Grand Prix today. Participants travelled from various cities across Europe to contest the opening stages of the Monte Carlo event and this so-called 'concentration run' continued to open the rally until 1995.
Following the lead of the Rally Monte Carlo - the oldest event in the World Rally Championship - rallies developed throughout Europe, attracting competitors from many countries. The Royal Automobile Club Rally (the RAC Rally, now known as Wales Rally GB) began in 1933, the Swedish 'Rally to the Midnight Sun' dates from 1950, Finland's 'Rally of the Thousand Lakes' closely followed it in 1951, and 1956 saw the first 'Tour de Corse' on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.
Rallies also sprung up in Africa, particularly in colonial countries - the 'East African Coronation Rally' in Kenya later became simply the 'Safari Rally', the byword for the world's toughest rally in later years.
In 1973, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) organised a series of 13 events as the very first World Rally Championship (WRC).
1973~1986, the dawn of the WRC; the Age of Group B
When the WRC began the FIA classified cars into six groups. Group 2 cars (cars with a minimum production run of 1000 in 12 consecutive months) and Group 4 (special models with minimum production of 500 in 12 consecutive months) were the star performers in those early years.
Group 2 cars:
Toyota Celica 1600GT TA22
Group 4 cars:
Lancia Fulvia HF
Lancia Stratos HF
FIAT Abarth 124 Rallye
FIAT Abarth 131 Rallye
Renault 5 Turbo
Ford Escort RS 1800
Datsun Violet GT
Talbot Sunbeam Lotus
Opel Ascona 400
Porsche 911 SC-RS
Toyota Corolla TE27
Toyota Celica 2000GT RA20
Mitsubishi Lancer GSR
Mitsubishi Lancer EX2000 Turbo
In 1981 Audi introduced the first four-wheel drive car, the Quattro Soon the name Quattro became synonymous with victory. The combination of a turbocharged engine with four-wheel drive has since been regarded as the benchmark of every World Rally car thereafter.
The FIA introduced a new classification system in 1983. Four groups were used: Group A, Group B, Group C and Group N, with Group B the designated World Championship class. The FIA required a minimum production of 200 cars that could include 20 special competition models, manufactured over 12 consecutive months. Each manufacturer hand built 20 cars as elaborate special models (known as 'homologation specials'), taking advantage of the minimal restrictions on modification. A space-frame of steel tubing covered by panels of composite material, all powered by a turbo-charged engine mounted in the middle of the chassis was the typical configuration during this era.
Use of these glamorous but somewhat fragile supercars led to some fatal accidents. In 1986, the era of the Group B came to an end.
1987~1997, the rise of Japan
Group A replaced Group B in 1987. Group A cars had to originate from a minimum production run of 5000 road cars, later reduced to 2500, and strict limits on modifications were imposed.
High performance, similar to that achieved with the old Group B cars, was still required. So these new regulations forced the manufacturers to switch their focus from small-scale production of specialist cars to the mass commercialisation of high-end, high-volume models. Only Lancia rode the wave in the first few years, with other European manufacturers disappearing from the sport one after another, largely because they hadn't been ready for producing such high-performance models on a large scale.
By contrast, Japanese manufacturers came to the fore. In 1993 Toyota won the manufacturers' title, the first Japanese company to do so. Subaru followed in Toyota's footsteps and won three consecutive titles from 1995 to 1997.
1997~today, the age of World Rally Cars
In 1997, the FIA sought to strengthen the somewhat uncertain future of the WRC by introducing a special Group A standard. This was the World Rally car specification, designed to open up the sport to as many manufacturers as possible.
World Rally Cars are now allowed to undergo a number of modifications and so European manufacturers (who may not have previously had a four-wheel drive, turbocharged car in their road car range) have returned to the championship.
More recently the FIA has proposed new regulations that will allow for further cost reduction in the future. Everything is shifting. In spite of such uncertainty, SUZUKI is ready to go forward undaunted. We believe that the quality and performance of our compact cars attract a wide range of people throughout the world: both now and into the future.