Having successfully completed the all-asphalt Tour de Corse-Rallye de France in October, the Suzuki World Rally Team now faces a brand new challenge with the Rally GB, held entirely on gravel.
The SX4 WRC’s gravel debut comes on one of the most difficult loose-surface events of the entire year. The forests of South Wales, where all the action takes place, are renowned for their high-speed stages and variable amounts of grip.
One of the biggest hurdles the crews will have to overcome is the notorious British weather. The rally takes place in early December, meaning that fog, rain and even ice is a distinct possibility. A number of the stages in the early morning and evening will be run in the dark, which only adds to the challenge.
The rally is based in Cardiff, the Capital of Wales, and the action includes a spectacular spectator superspecial stage through the city’s famous Millennium Stadium on Saturday night December 1st.
For Suzuki, the priority will be to get to the finish in order to continue the SX4 WRC’s development programme on gravel. The car has shown some early promise in testing, but there is no substitute for the heat of competition. Suzuki’s progress throughout the three days of the British event will be a journey of discovery, with the firm aim of bringing back the maximum amount of data as the Suzuki World Rally Team gears up for its first full World Championship campaign in 2008.
The competition is sure to be very strong, as Wales Rally Great Britain is the final round of the 2007 World Championship and the place where the World Champion will be crowned on Sunday night. It is also the most heavily subscribed event on the World Championship, with no fewer than 120 competitors due to take the ceremonial start on Thursday night in Cardiff.
Car news – Suzuki SX4 WRC n.19:
Suzuki will run just one SX4 WRC in Britain, for Sebastian Lindholm from Finland. The car will appear in full gravel specification for the first time in competition. This includes gravel suspension with a tall ride height in order to provide sufficient ground clearance on the rough roads, and underbody protection to guard against the rough rocks. The gravel specification also includes smaller brakes than are used on asphalt and a differential set-up that is specific for loose surfaces. Innovations in the engine and transmission include a new valve operating system, engine mapping, anti-lag system and new differential settings. All of these evolutions are designed to improve driveability while remaining within the scope of the FIA homologation rules.
Nonetheless, the emphasis is on testing, so the SX4 WRC’s set-up will be adjusted over all three days of the event in order to find the best compromises. Suzuki will also be trying out some new solutions aimed at next year’s gravel rallies.
Suzuki World Rally Team driver Sebastian Lindholm has been driving the SX4 WRC for most of the year on the car’s gravel tests, and he is looking forward to continuing this vital development work on the Wales Rally Great Britain.
Lindholm – a seven-time Finnish Rally Champion – last competed on the Rally Great Britain in 1998, where he finished fifth overall. He has also formed part of the Peugeot World Rally Team’s factory line-up on his native Rally Finland until 2005. Lindholm, the cousin of Marcus Gronholm, has co-driver Tomi Tuominen with him. Their experience has proved extremely useful during Suzuki’s gravel testing to date, the latest phase of which is the Wales Rally GB.
Sebastian said: “I feel very pleased that I’m going to create a bit of history by driving the SX4 WRC on its first gravel rally! So far, our performance in testing has been promising but there’s still quite a lot of work to do and that is why we are here on Wales Rally Great Britain. I like the car a lot, but I can think of some ways to improve it further and I will be trying those ideas out on the rally. It’s been a little while since I have competed on this event, so I am going to make sure we get to the finish above everything else. I always have a very good feeling on gravel and I am sure we will do a lot of useful work here. That will be the key thing, rather than the overall result.”
Wales Rally Great Britain will be yet another steep learning curve on what is only Suzuki’s second-ever World Championship Rally. The Suzuki World Rally Team has been testing following the Rallye de France, and it feels confident that it is following the correct development path. Nobuhiro Tajima, team principal of the Suzuki World Rally Team, commented: “Our mission in Britain will be exactly the same as it was in Corsica: to bring the car home in order to learn as much as we can for the future development of the SX4 WRC. If anything, gravel is an even bigger challenge than asphalt: we do not have so much experience on this surface with the car and the surfaces are a lot harder to predict. Rally GB is a very difficult event: Sebastian must be careful and accumulate as much data as possible for us – this is the aim!”
Thursday, 29 November:
19:30 Ceremonial start, Cardiff
Friday, 30 November:
09:10 Start of leg one
21:00 End of leg one after six special stages (140.80 competitive kilometres)
Saturday, 1 December:
08:00 Start of leg two
20:10 End of leg two after seven special stages (104.48 competitive kilometres)
Sunday, 2 December:
06:25 Start of leg three
15:40 End of leg three after four special stages (114.26 competitive kilometres)