Capirossi tastes podium success in UK rally
Rizla Suzuki MotoGP racer Loris Capirossi had a successful rally debut yesterday as he drove his Suzuki Swift to third place in the Swift Sport Cup, and ninth position overall in the two-wheel drive section of the Tempest Rally.
Capirossi started the day steadily in his Group N car as he came to terms with the demanding 80km of special stages held in the forests and Military training grounds around the Hampshire town of Aldershot in England. As the day progressed, Capirossi became more confident with the incredible performance and handling of the Swift and moved through the field before eventually getting into the top-three in the later stages. He pushed hard as darkness fell, but couldn't quite find the few seconds that he needed to progress further up the leader-board. With comprehensive assistance from experienced co-driver Craig Thorley, Capirossi brought his number 65 Suzuki Swift home in third place, just 14 seconds away from the eventual Swift Sport Cup rally - and championship -- winner Mark Gamble.
Capirossi's MotoGP Team manager Paul Denning was also competing in the rally, but he had a less successful conclusion than his Italian rider. Denning was in close touch with Capirossi and the leaders in the early stages, but a mistake at the end of a fast straight on stage four saw the Englishman slide off the road and into a ditch. He was unable to get his Suzuki back into the stage within the time limit and was disqualified. Denning and co-driver Jemma Bellingham did rejoin the rally for the four afternoon stages and restored some pride by recording some of the quickest times as the torrential rain and high winds battered the competitors.
Capirossi was on hand at the end of the rally to present the winners with their trophies and meet-and-greet his fellow drivers to discuss both the day's events and the demands of their respective motorsport disciplines. Capirossi and Denning will now prepare for Rizla Suzuki MotoGP's next winter test at Phillip Island in Australia later this month, when the evaluation of the 2009 Suzuki GSV-R will continue in readiness for next year's assault on the MotoGP World Championship.
"It has been a great day and it was really fun to do the rally. I took my time in the early stages as I got used to driving on the loose surfaces and in the forests, it was certainly very different from the wide-open tracks that I am used to in MotoGP! As I got more confident with the car my times improved and I was able to go a lot quicker and I think if we could have done a couple more stages I might have caught the leader, but I am really pleased with third in my first rally. It was a shame that Paul crashed out, because I think our times were very close and it would have been good to have had that extra bit of competition with him, but I think I would have beaten him anyway! I want to say a big thank-you to Craig for some great co-driving and to the organisers for putting on such a good day, plus thanks to Suzuki for inviting me to take part in the event and giving me this opportunity to drive the fantastic Suzuki Swift in a rally."
"The first thing I want to say is thank-you to everybody at Suzuki GB and the UK Rally Team for all their support and allowing us to take part and have such fun in the amazing Group N Swift. The car surpassed all expectations in terms of performance and especially strength. It was really rough out there today and the cars got a thorough workout and the performance never dropped off at all throughout the day. With Loris, I suppose it was slightly inevitable that one of us was going to crash trying to beat the other, and I think it was even more inevitable that it was going to be me! It was quite surprising - considering our lack of experience - that we were able to run so competitively and I think this is a testament to the experience of Jemma and Craig - our co-drivers -- that certainly helped us all day long. Loris and I were very close to each other early on but I made a mistake and slid off the road so I wasn't able to complete the whole rally -- which was a great shame - but thanks to Ian Phillipson of the Swift Sport Cup and the rally organisers I was able to get back out for the afternoon stages and restore a bit of pride, so that made things a bit better. Well done to Loris for his podium position, it's a good end to 2008 and I hope we taste some more champagne on two wheels in 2009!"