Suzuki Swift driver Guy Wilks has won class A6 on the all-gravel Rally Japan, Suzuki's home event. This is the latest chapter in a stunning success story for the all-new Swift: it has finished on the podium in every event it has contested, and now takes its second consecutive class victory. Finishing runner-up in Japan was the identical car of his team mate P-G Andersson. Although both drivers had mixed fortunes on this extremely challenging event, they once again proved the speed of the Swift on gravel by setting times that were quicker than some much more powerful cars.
Japan is the 13th rally of the World Championship, and part of Suzuki's six-rally programme outside of the Junior World Rally Championship designed to build up experience and knowledge for the future. It is also very much a home event, with both drivers enjoying plenty of support from the enthusiastic local fans!
Rally Japan has only been in the World Championship since last year but it has already earned a reputation for being one of the toughest events on the calendar. The stages are extremely fast, narrow, and slippery - made even trickier by the uncertain weather. The final day of the event was cool and overcast, whereas on the second day it rained and on the first day it was warm! Drivers also had to cope with thick fog and a number of stages run at night.
The Suzuki drivers came to Japan to test the Swift under a wide range of conditions: including what is now the longest stage in the entire World Championship, the 50 kilometres of Kunneywa-Niueo. Despite a wide variety of conditions and surfaces, the Swift regularly set times that were amongst the top five Group N cars, which benefit from four-wheel drive and turbocharging.
Guy had some small brake problems on the opening loop of stages, but recovered from those only to be hit by a puncture in the afternoon. He was forced to stop and change it and this happened again on the second day. Punctures aside, he had no mechanical problems to take a well-deserved class victory with the considerable margin of more than 13 minutes!
He said: "The stages were very gravelly, particularly on the first run, and that is why we had all the problems with punctures. Luckily our problems were no more serious than that, and by the end of the rally we were experts at changing wheels! From the end of the first day we already had a considerable class lead and it was just a question of controlling it to the end. These were very tough and varied conditions, and the Swift performed brilliantly throughout all of them."
P-G took the class lead on the opening stage, but lost it on the first run through the long 50-kilometre stage on day one with a puncture. Worst was to follow when he rolled the car at the end of the leg on SS8, following a late pace note. He damaged the car again on the superspecial at the end of the second day, but had a clean run throughout the final leg to take a hard-earned second-place.
The Swede commented: "This hasn't been one of my best rallies, but we've certainly proved that the Swift is a very strong and resilient car!"
Another Suzuki won its class on the Rally Japan: the Group N Ignis of local driver Yutaka Awazuhara.
Suzuki Sport President Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima said: "Congratulations to Guy on an excellent class win: the second for the all-new Suzuki Swift. The car has proved extremely competitive on every rally it has contested and we have seen that it works well and is easy to drive in a wide variety of conditions. Congratulations to Yutaka Awazhuhara on his Group N2 win as well!"
The Suzuki Swift drivers will be back in action on the final round of the Junior World Rally Championship, the Catalunya Rally from 28-30 October.Published 3 October 2005