David Richards, the chairman of Prodrive, says there was no warning given that Subaru was planning to pull the plug on its World Rally Championship programme.

The Japanese manufacturer revealed yesterday [Tuesday] that it was quitting the sport with immediate effect, following in the footsteps of Suzuki which announced its departure 24 hours earlier.

The fact that paperwork for the 2009 entry is believed to have been lodged with the FIA is an indication of how quickly things turned sour for Subaru, a brand that has become synonymous with rallying, and Richards admitted that it had come as a shock to be told the programme was ending.

"We had no warning," he told Britain's Times newspaper. "But what can we do? This is the credit crunch again and it seems Subaru felt exposed after Honda left Formula One and could not justify having a world rally team.

"The pressure for car companies to cut all discretionary spending must be immense, but there is now a danger that companies are throwing the baby out with the bath water. Subaru have forgotten how their brand image was built."

Despite the decision taken by Subaru's parent company Fuji Heavy Industries, the manufacturer is set to be represented in 2009 with the Adapta team having announced that it will continue with plans to run an Impreza WRC2008 next year.

Indeed, Subaru themselves have refused to rule out the possibility of a return to the WRC in future although FHI president Ikuo Mori warned people not to assume that it would happen further down the line.

"We have achieved our initial objective to improve the brand recognition," he told a Tokyo press conference. "Given the unprecedented economic situation deterioration, it was necessary to review our investments. These are the main reasons.

"Reaching the decision has been an extremely difficult task, not least because of the countless Subaru fans that have supported our cars for so many years. We would like to express our sincere appreciation for our fans' strong and loyal support worldwide. They will remain an invaluable treasure for us.

"If we can be allowed, we want to continue - especially for the fans. The possibility of a Subaru car back in the top category of WRC in the future is not zero, however for this moment there can be no assumption of a comeback."