Suzuki scores best-ever result on home territory
The Rally Japan has been a resounding success for Suzuki, with the cars claiming their best-ever results on home territory. At the end of this challenging event, up-and-coming Swede P-G Andersson has finished in fifth place while his Finnish team mate Toni Gardemeister was sixth. As well as scoring driver and manufacturer points with both cars, the Suzuki World Rally Team set its first fastest stage time on Saturday and was never out of the top six times throughout the whole of Sunday. The SX4 WRCs were perfectly reliable from start to finish, despite tough conditions and harsh weather on this brand new event that challenged all the top runners.
Sunday's final day of the Rally Japan took in nine stages and nearly 100 competitive kilometres in wet and muddy conditions. The Suzuki drivers found exactly the right blend of speed and consistency to capitalise upon all the progress made to date with the SX4 WRC, which is still to complete its first full season of competition.
Both the cars hit minor setbacks on SS23, Sikot: Gardemeister had a small puncture in the rocky conditions while Andersson had a backwards spin at a hairpin that cost ten seconds but did not prevent him from setting second-fastest time. Without this mishap, he would have been fastest. Having set three second-fastest stage times today, Andersson overhauled his team mate on the penultimate stage to claim fifth overall.
Apart from that, the yellow cars encountered no problems all the way to the finish in Sapporo - which was watched by thousands of excited local Suzuki fans in unexpected sunshine!
Car news - Suzuki SX4 WRC n.11 (Gardemeister), n.12 (Andersson):
The final day of the Rally Japan presented the crews with a considerable challenge, particularly during the second run through the stages when the rain made the roads rough and rutted. In order to counteract these difficult conditions, both drivers adjusted the set-up of the SX4 WRC to guarantee sufficient ground clearance and suspension travel.
As the rally route was all-new for this year following Rally Japan's move from Obihiro, the drivers had to learn the roads and establish the correct set-up as they went along. Today's itinerary consisted of two loops of stages, with just one service halt in between. In the opinion of most of the drivers, Sunday's stages were amongst the most challenging of the whole rally, with the water turning some of the stages into small rivers during the morning.
Toni Gardemeister: "This has been a very tough but a very good rally for us, which has confirmed what I always thought: when we have a nice clean run with no problems, we are able to fight for a good position. I was also really proud to set Suzuki's first fastest stage time on Saturday. Given that we have not even finished our first full year yet and that we have done no testing, it really shows our potential for the future. We head now to the final round of the season in Great Britain with quite a lot of confidence."
P-G Andersson: "I've really enjoyed this event and I hope that we've given all the Suzuki fans here something to remember! The car has been completely reliable and without the time we lost to stop and change a puncture yesterday, I think we could have been even closer to the leaders. This rally shows that all the hard work and development we have put in over the course of the year really works and it is a very encouraging sign for the future. After struggling a bit on the asphalt rallies, my confidence is back to full strength and I am looking forward to a solid season finish now."
Shusuke Inagaki, Suzuki World Rally Team Director: "We are all very proud of the achievements of the Suzuki World Rally Team here at home in Japan! An important thing to remember is that the rally route was brand new for this year, which meant that nobody started with any real advantage in terms of experience. This proves that when the conditions are equal, we can fight with some of the frontrunners. Of course we still have a long way to go and much to learn, but this is the clearest indication yet that everything is heading in the right direction."