Can Renault or Nissan be lured back to WRC?

Renault’s and Nissan’s motor sport heritage is huge, both on rally stages and racing tracks. The unforgettable rally and racing cars, such as Alpine, Renault 5 GT Turbo, Clio in all imaginable guises and specs, Nissan Sunny, GT-R, to name but a few. With the added stability of the current and hopefully future WRC rules, and based on the promised revival of the series in the hands of the new promoter, is it too wild to hope for either Nissan or Renault to show interest in building and running a proper WRC team?

The Renault-Nissan Alliance’s financial results for 2012 are promising, despite the noticeable drop on the key markets in Europe. The “Old continent” is still firmly on the brakes, and this is affecting just about all brands and companies. However, the Renault-Nissan Alliance sold a record 8,097,197 vehicles in 2012, representing one in 10 new cars sold worldwide, according to their official results. They continue by saying that calendar-year sales increased about 1% from 2011, with strong growth in emerging markets and the US, compensating for the protracted European slowdown. 2012 was the fourth straight year of sales growth for the Renault-Nissan Alliance.

When we split the results to companies, Renault group sold 2,550,286 units worldwide in 2012, down 6.3% from 2011. Renault group sales increased 9.1% outside Europe, thanks in part to strong growth in Brazil, Russia, and Algeria. Sales declined 18% in Europe as car sales throughout the continent dropped 8.6%. As for Nissan, they sold 4,940,133 units, up 5.8%, setting a new calendar year record. Nissan has two markets each exceeding 1 million units: China and the United States.

Conclusion is pretty obvious, there are (still) huge markets in Russia, China, Brazil and the US, among others, and this goes for not only Renault and Nissan but for many other brands, even the two currently competing in the WRC as factory teams. Ford is also included in this calculation. All of these regions are largely missing from the WRC calendar, and will continue to do so for as long as WRC is hidden from the radar, kept on the sidelines and away from the almighty TV. However, the calendar is also the reflection of the need to cut costs. Striking the fine balance between the cost cutting and the expansion will be crucial for the future of World Rally Championship and it’s appeal to major brands and teams.

Let’s consider the possibilities for a moment. Let’s say WRC calendar expands to either of the mentioned markets (based not only on car market potential, but the sport appeal as well, let me make myself clear!), WRC gains popularity in the hands of Red Bull and the rules are confirmed for long term. Would it be possible to expect Renault or Nissan back in the WRC with one of their cars? I sure hope so.

The alliance does have 1.6 gasoline turbocharged engine available (MR16DDT), and it powers both models I find interesting for potential role of WRC machine; Clio and Juke. Both cars are also part of the current “WRC” B segment. Alliance also has access to all wheel drive system. Rough foundations are here, and I believe it might be possible to build a proper WRC car around them. The costs and investment would be huge, no doubt, and it will take one special set of circumstances in and around the sport of WRC to persuade Renault and Nissan to embark on such an adventure.

I am aware this is all based on nothing more than a wish, but the fact is that the alliance of Renault and Nissan is at all times very welcome in WRC. Which car is your favourite for the job? The new Renault Clio or the odd looking but nicely selling Juke? I am torn between the two – sure, Clio would look splendid in WRC guise, but if Nismo’s takes on Juke R are anything to go by, Juke would be one mean WRC machine! For now, it would be great for RenaultSport to continue it’s development of Rx cars for lower rungs of the WRC ladder, from R1 all the way to this brand new R5 thing everyone is talking about.

On February 26, Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn is set to reveal major new plans for the Nismo brand. Presumably, Nismo will finally be named Nissan’s official performance branch, similar to Opel OPC, Mercedes-Benz AMG or BMW M. Ghosn is expected to reveal major motorsport plans as well. There is very little chance that these plans will have any connection to rally, but it is nice to see both brands staying faithful to their racing tradition.

In case this needs to be clarified, I have nothing to do with the attempt to disguise Juke as WRC car in the photo above. Thanks.