There were a lot of familiar rally cars in action at Race Retro 2023 a couple of weekends back, but scattered amongst the usual suspects was one I’d never seen before in person.
The vehicle in question was the diminutively-proportioned ex-JWRC Suzuki Ignis S1600, resplendent in its luminous yellow paint scheme.
Initially known as the Super 1600 (S1600) Drivers Championship, the FIA Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) has always sat in the shadow of the World Rally Championship. But while the rules are slightly tapered down in the interest of cost saving, it offers a hugely competitive means for drivers to shine on an international level.
At the time this Suzuki competed, the JWRC regulations were fairly straightforward. Teams needed to start with a front-wheel drive car with a maximum engine capacity of 1,600cc, and sophisticated parts like sequential gearboxes were tightly controlled. Cars had a budget capped at US$100,000, and were devoid of exotic materials.
In an effort to bring fresh talent to the world stage, the maximum age limit for drivers and co-drivers was (and still is today) set at 29 years. This formula proved effective, with the first JWRC drivers champion none other than Sébastian Loeb.
Suzuki’s works program was initially set up by Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima of Monster Sport, who made his name behind the wheel of some crazy Suzukis built for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb – including the twin-engined Escudo that Dino featured back in 2014.
Tajima-san established Monster Sport Europe in Milton Keynes, from where the Suzuki Motorsport works team first campaigned the three-door Ignis S1600, then the five-door model seen here, before switching over to the Swift S1600 in 2006.
The five-door Ignis S1600 platform was definitely an outlier compared to other JWRC entrants at the time, but despite being physically longer than the three-door equivalent, the wheelbase remained the same.
The 1,600cc engine is based on a Suzuki 1,300cc block, as the 1,500cc block in the road-going Ignis Sport did not have enough material between the bores to enlarge them. The four-cylinder puts out 206hp at a heady 8,500rpm, sent to the front wheels through a Hewland 6-speed sequential gearbox, actuated by the lever a short reach from the steering wheel.
While the permitted use of composites in JWRC was limited, the Suzuki team sought out weight savings in other ways. Any non-essential items were removed from the interior, with the exception of the the factory door cards. The team even went to the extent of swapping all non structural bolts for aluminium equivalents. This brought the Ignis S1600 down to below the 950kg minimum weight, which allowed fine tuning of weight balance by adding ballast back in.
Otherwise, the interior is all business. The dash cluster is long gone, replaced with a centrally-mounted digital unit, with only essential information right in front of the driver. The mandatory mobile phone – a Nokia 6210 in this case – remains, helping to remind us that this car is now 20 years old.
In tarmac trim, 17-inch Speedline wheels barely contained the 355mm front discs and Brembo Racing 4-pot callipers which provide the majority of stopping power. These are paired with 278mm discs and 2-pot Brembo callipers at the rear. The other biggest difference visually are the pumped up wheel arches – 70mm wider per side to accommodate the larger wheel and tyre package.
The car’s owner mentioned in conversation that he also has the original factory support van, which will shortly be recommissioned in the matching works colour scheme. How cool is that?!
Rally is known to have some of the most dedicated fans, but I’d go out on a limb to say some of the most dedicated participants too. It takes a certain kind of person to not only buy a two-decade-old ex-works rally car, let alone to drive it as intended every opportunity possible. To have an entire paddock full of owners that share that mindset – as was the case at Race Retro – is even better.