Catalunya - Suzuki World Rally Team - Day Three
The Rally de Espaņa has proved extremely useful for the Suzuki World Rally Team, as it has learned several valuable lessons about driving on asphalt for the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse that gets underway in less than a week's
The final leg of the Spanish event took in six demanding asphalt stages today, which were as dirty as a gravel rally in places. In order to find the quickest lines through the corners, the cars always take deep cuts - and this pulls earth and stones right into the middle of the road.
Despite these tricky conditions, which also carry a high risk of punctures, the Suzuki SX4 WRCs of Toni Gardemeister and P-G Andersson both arrived safely at the rally finish in Salou after 18 stages and 353 competitive kilometres.
Gardemeister was all set for a points-scoring result until he picked up a puncture at the end of Day One, which caused him to lose more than two and a half minutes. He had a trouble-free run through Days Two and Three, in which he concentrated on testing and development, to finish 13th overall despite another puncture on the final morning.
P-G Andersson also suffered a major setback early in the rally, when a pace note error on the second stage of Friday meant that he went off the road and slithered down a bank. The car was undamaged but the young Swede was unable to regain the stage.
He re-started on Saturday under the Super Rally rules with a 25-minute penalty and also subsequently focussed on testing for the all-asphalt Rally de France.
Today both Suzuki SX4 WRC drivers concentrated on testing their cars on some of the dirtier roads used on the Spanish event, under cooler temperatures. This experience will be of direct relevance to Corsica, as the higher-altitude stages there tend to be cool and the roads are often bumpy and dirty.
At the service park in Port Aventura, the drivers changed some settings for the re-run over the first loop of three stages. The final loop of stages proved to be extremely slippery, testing the traction and grip of the SX4 WRC on unstable asphalt surfaces. The team also focussed on adapting the range of Pirelli PZero control tyres to the SX4 WRC on dirty asphalt.
Suzuki is now feeling confident for Corsica, renowned as the most fearsome asphalt event of them all. The SX4 WRC once more demonstrated perfect reliability over all three days of the Rally de Espaņa, as has been the case now for several months. This allowed both Gardemeister and Andersson plenty of time to experiment with differential and damper settings, which will be crucial on the bumpy asphalt of Corsica.
As soon as the Spanish Rally finished, the Suzuki team packed up its trucks to head straight to the Mediterranean island. The rally begins with a ceremonial start in Ajaccio on Thursday.
"It's a shame that we picked up the puncture on the first day, otherwise I am sure that we could have got some good points here. This rally has been very useful for us though, as we have come away with a lot of vital information for Corsica. I'm also pleased with the level of reliability: we've had no mechanical problems from start to finish which is among the most important thing on the World Rally Championship, as our double points finish on the last round in New Zealand showed. So I'm feeling quite confident as we head to Corsica; hopefully we can put all the potential we have shown on asphalt into practice there."
"I've been happy with the car in Spain, which makes my mistake on Friday all the more annoying as we had the chance to claim a good result. After that I put all my efforts into testing and development work for Corsica: we should be well-prepared now as we tried some stiffer damper settings this morning. Corsica is not a rally that I know well, but I'm looking forward to it a lot. I think the roads there will probably suit the SX4 WRC better than the roads here in Spain."
Shusuke Inagaki, Suzuki World Rally Team Director:
"This was the first proper asphalt round of the season for us, as Monte Carlo and Germany are certainly not typical of most asphalt rallies. Despite the fact that Spain was one of the quickest and toughest rallies of the year, both cars were completely reliable, which is very encouraging. Most importantly of all, we have been able to continue the SX4 WRC's development on asphalt by taking on board several valuable lessons from this event. Now we hope to use them on the next round in Corsica, which will be another big challenge for all of us - especially coming so soon after Spain."