Walkden walks from Australian Championship

Les Walkden Rallying (LWR) has decided not to take part in the Australian Rally Championship in 2006 and the Tasmanian-based rally team will instead opt to compete in the Asia Pacific Championship.

The withdrawal of LWR from the domestic championship follows the recent move by the Australian Rally Commission (ARCom) to impose a Manufacturers’ levy on the team because it was receiving sponsorship support from Subaru.

LWR, which operated as a satellite team for Subaru in 2005, has been declared a pseudo-Manufacturer by ARCom. Subaru Australia announced its withdrawal from the Australian Championship after winning a tenth consecutive national driver’s title, declaring that it would pursue tarmac options in the future.

However, Subaru had some remaining obligations in rallying in 2006, including its agreement with LWR to run a satellite team, which involved a drive for a selected competitor from the 2005 Subaru Rally Challenge.

The ruling by ARCom has left LWR with no choice but to leave the ARC.

Walkden has decided that he will instead take his team to a championship where he can compete on equal footing with the other competitors and on a cost-effective basis.

“In the past few years, I, like so many others, have put an enormous amount of my own money into the Australian Rally Championship,” Walkden said. “I did it because I wanted to, and I was keen to do so again in 2006, but the decision to rule me effectively a manufacturers’ team leaves me with no option but to pursue our rallying goals in other championships.”

“I am baffled how Les Walkden Rallying can be classified as a manufacturers’ team, just because I have support from Subaru. It was the same last year, and yet they were happy to call me a privateer and presented us with the Privateers’ Cup.”

“Yes, Subaru have increased their support in 2006, but it is still very much a sponsor role, with LWR finding the rest of the cash.”

“Surely no-one who knows anything about the sport is going to compare our operation with that of Toyota, Ford or Mitsubishi. Last time I looked, Les Walkden Rallying wasn’t a publicly listed company on any stock exchange in the world, and nor do we manufacture cars.”

“It takes our effort, our money, just to get to the starting line. I have to run a two car team, and Subaru’s support only makes up a small part of the overall cost. The rest comes from other sponsors as well as Les Walkden, and that needs to produce a return on the investment.”

“The rally enthusiast, the rally volunteer, the rally competitor, the event organisers, the event sponsors and the rally spectators must question the workings of ARCom. In just one year they have lost the series sponsor, the longest serving manufacturer team, the longest serving privateer team, the most successful junior series ever and there is no longer an event in NSW which happens to be the most populous state in Australia. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of focus on the customer”, says Walkden.