After racking up a World Championship point and proving itself capable of setting top six stage times on its full season debut in Monte Carlo, the Suzuki World Rally Team heads to Sweden with the aim of bringing both SX4 WRCs to a points finish.
The snowy stages around Karlstad
are extremely specialised, but the team is hoping that its all-Scandinavian line-up of Toni Gardemeister and P-G Andersson will provide some much-needed local knowledge.
Although the stage surfaces consist of snow and ice, Sweden is ironically one of the quickest events of the year - as the cars run on narrow tyres with studs that provide even better grip than an ordinary gravel rally. When it snows heavily, thick snowbanks form by the side of the Swedish stages to line the route. Part of the black art of driving the Swedish Rally is to know how to use those snowbanks effectively, by 'leaning'the car against them in order to guide it through the corner. This is a delicate balancing act though: if a driver leans too hard the car will simply crash through the snowbank and get stuck. Too much contact with the snow can also clog radiators and cause overheating, so it is always to keep a clean but fast line.
This year's snowfall may not be as heavy as that of previous years, so it will be important for the drivers to look after their tyres in order not to lose too many studs.
The rally gets underway on Thursday night and covers a total of 20 special stages before the finish on Sunday afternoon. For more information: www.swerally.se
Car news - Suzuki SX4 WRC n.11 (Gardemeister) and n.12 (Andersson):
For Suzuki, Sweden is a comparatively new experience as it has only visited the event twice previously, with a Super 1600 car. Those outings have always been positive, as P-G Andersson has won the class in his home rally with Suzuki on both occasions.
In mid-January Suzuki completed a pre-event test in northern Sweden near Kall, accumulating around 600 kilometres with both drivers. The SX4 WRC set some respectable times, but most importantly of all it was reliable - allowing the drivers to establish some useful base settings that will be used to start the rally. The team also gained valuable data from the opening round of the WRC in Monte Carlo last weekend, which will be equally useful for Sweden.
Along with all the other factory cars the Suzuki SX4 WRC will use Pirelli's narrow 'Sottozero Ice'control tyre in Sweden, which has long studs designed to penetrate the surface snow and dig into the ice underneath. This will be the last year that the teams will use these special narrow tyres for snow events, as from 2009 the tyre size will be the same as it is on gravel in order to reduce the number of different wheel rims needed.
Both Toni Gardemeister and P-G Andersson count Sweden amongst their favourite rallies, having each racked up an impressive record of achievement there. This will be the 32 year-old Gardemeister's 10th Swedish Rally with a best result of third in 2005.
Gardemeister said:"I was very happy with the performance of the SX4 WRC in Monte Carlo. When things were going well we were less than a second a kilometre off the frontrunners, which is really good for the first rally. In Sweden I'm going to try to score some points, and I think we have a strong chance of achieving this judging by the performance and reliability showed by the SX4 WRC during the pre-Sweden test a few weeks ago. I'm hoping a bit more snow will fall before the rally starts: I remember that last year the snow came very late, just before the rally got underway."
P-G Andersson, aged 27, comes from the village of Argang - around 100 kilometres down the road from the stages. As well as being a two-time Junior Champion, P-G was also the Swedish Super 1600 champion in 2003 and 2004. He has contested approximately 60 rallies in his homeland since the start of his career, including four Swedish WRC rounds.
P-G Andersson commented. "Scoring a driver's point in Monte Carlo with the SX4 WRC has given me a real boost going into my home rally, and I'm feeling quite confident. But of course it will actually be harder to get a good result in Sweden than it was in Monte Carlo, as there will be more local experts and also a higher number of entries. If we can finish in the top 10, that would be a great result. I think there should be enough ice on the stages to find good grip, but if there is not so much snow then the speeds will be even faster than usual. Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to it!"
Suzuki heads to Sweden on the crest of a wave, having been delighted by the promising performance of the SX4 WRC in Monte Carlo and a championship point on its debut. Nonetheless, Sweden is an entirely different event that presents a new set of challenges. Once more the learning curve will be huge, with the team starting from scratch on this tricky and specialised surface. Nonetheless, Suzuki is aiming to finish with both cars in the points in Sweden.
"This is a very tough objective, but we would not set it if we did not think that it was achievable," said Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima, Suzuki World Rally Team principal. "Monte Carlo was a dream debut for us, but we want to go one better now. I believe that we have already shown the clear potential of the SX4 WRC so it is down to us to build on that potential from here on. Sweden is a very exciting event for all of us and especially for P-G as it is his home rally, but once more my instructions to the drivers will be to bring the car home above all. By accumulating as many kilometres as we can and learning step by step, we will continue to make progress."
Suzuki World Rally Team