Suzuki Team Finland were delighted by the pace of their Super 1600 Ignis on the World Championship Neste Rally Finland, which they used as a test event. The team's main focus is the Junior World Championship, but they decided to gain extra development mileage by entering an Ignis on the world's fastest rally: the Neste Rally Finland.
Although driver Juha Kangas retired after an accident on leg two, Suzuki Motorsport have been overjoyed by the speed of the Ignis and the progress that has been made since the last event. The lessons learned will be passed on to the other two Junior World Championship Suzuki teams, from Germany and Japan.
Suzuki Team Finland manager Risto Laine explained: "Our mission here was to learn more about the car and the rally, for the benefit of both ourselves and our colleagues in Japan and Germany. It was a real shame that we had an accident, but otherwise things went even better than expected."
Suzuki has recently homologated a new gearbox, with shorter ratios to improve torque and acceleration, which was used in Finland. Kangas said: "The car feels very quick and easy to drive. We were able to be competitive, and Iœm impressed by the amount of progress the team has made. Finland is a rally I enjoy a lot, but itœs also one of the toughest and certainly one of the fastest of the world championship. If we are able to go well here which we clearly are itœs a very good sign for the future. The engine, suspension and handling of the Ignis all worked brilliantly. I also liked the new gearbox the ratios allowed us a top speed of about 175 kilometres an hour which is what you need in Finland."
The Suzuki Ignis proved to be competitive against Renault's all-new Super 1600 Clio, which was being driven by up-and-coming Finnish star Mikko Hirvonen. Although the Clio often seemed a bit quicker, it was difficult to compare it to the pace of the Ignis. Renault used a wider Pirelli tyre, whereas Suzuki opted to stick with Junior World Championship regulations, which allow only narrower Michelin control tyres.
Kangas ran quickly and a hundred per cent reliably throughout the opening leg of the rally, his only problem being a puncture on the penultimate stage. A stone in the road caught out several cars, but Kangas and co-driver Janne Laaksonen proved to be kings of the pit stops, changing the wheel in two minutes flat!
The Finn was unsure of his rhythm on the opening stage of day two, but recovered to set a fast time on the following test. Next was stage 13 which turned out to be very unlucky for the talented Kangas. There was a fast right turn half way through and Kangas felt the car snap sideways. He could not recover the slide and crashed into retirement. "We're still not totally sure what caused the accident," said Risto Laine afterwards. "Our engineers are looking at the car and inspecting the stage. Hopefully we can discover some information to prevent this happening again. The most important thing is that we have learned so much before our next gravel event, the Rally Great Britain in November. Iœm feeling very optimistic."
For now, the Suzuki teams travel to Germany for the next Junior World Championship round, the Rallye Deutschland from August 23-25. It will be the home rally for Suzuki Team Germany and Niki Schelle, but the other Ignis teams are guaranteed to be trying their hardest as well.Published 12 August 2002