There were plenty of familiar rally cars in action at Race Retro 2023 a few weekends ago, but interspersed among the usual suspects was a car I’d never seen before.
The vehicle in question is a diminutively proportioned ex-JWRC Suzuki Ignis S1600, very shiny in its glowing yellow paint scheme.
Originally known as the Super 1600 (S1600) Drivers’ Championship, the FIA Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) has always been in the shadow of the World Rally Championship. But while the rules have been scaled back slightly to save costs, it offers drivers a highly competitive way to shine at an international level.
When Suzuki was racing, the JWRC regulations were fairly straightforward. Teams needed to start with front-wheel-drive cars with a maximum engine capacity of 1,600cc, and strictly control complex components such as sequential gearboxes. The budget for the car was capped at $100,000, and no exotic materials were used.
To bring fresh talent to the world stage, the maximum age limit for drivers and co-pilots was (and still is) set at 29. The formula proved to be effective and the first JWRC driver’s championship was none other than Sebastian Loeb.
The Suzuki works program was originally set up by Monster Sport’s Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima, who has made a name for himself driving some of the crazy Suzuki race cars built for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, including Dino’s 2014 twin-engine Escudo.
Tajima-san established Monster Sport Europe in Milton Keynes, from where the Suzuki motorsports team launched first the three-door Ignis S1600, then the five-door model seen here before switching 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 the wheelbase remained the same despite being physically longer than its three-door equivalent.
The 1,600cc engine is based on a Suzuki 1,300cc block because the 1,500cc block in the road-going Ignis Sport doesn’t have enough material between the bores to enlarge them. The four-cylinder engine cranks out 206hp at a stunning 8,500rpm, sending it to the front wheels via a Hewland 6-speed sequential gearbox, driven by a joystick not far from the steering wheel.
While the use of composite materials allowed in the JWRC is limited, the Suzuki team sought to reduce weight in other ways. All non-essential items have been removed from the interior except for the factory key cards. The team even replaced all non-structural bolts with aluminum bolts. This brings the Ignis S1600 below a minimum weight of 950kg, which allows the weight balance to be fine-tuned by re-adding ballast.
Otherwise, the interior is all business. Gone is the instrument cluster, replaced by a centrally mounted digital unit with only essential information right in front of the driver. The obligatory phone – in this case the Nokia 6210 – is still there, helping to remind us that the car is now 20 years old.
On the tarmac, the 17-inch Speedline wheels were barely there with the 355mm front discs and Brembo Racing 4-pot calipers that provided most of the stopping power. They are paired with 278mm discs at the rear and 2-pot Brembo calipers. The other biggest difference visually is the pumped wheel arches – which are 70mm wider on each side to accommodate the larger wheel and tire packs.
The owner mentioned in the conversation that he still has the factory support car, which will soon be back in service in a matching production colorway. How cool is that? !
We all know that rallies have some of the most devoted fans, but I daresay they also have some of the most devoted participants. A certain type of person doesn’t just buy a 20-year-old factory rally car, let alone drive it as intended in every possible situation. Having that mentality with everyone in the paddock – as is the case with Race Retro – is even better.
Instagram: Chai Ke