Suzuki Team Germany driver Niki Schelle has come tantalisingly close to a Junior World Championship points finish at the end of the San Remo Rally. The German finished seventh, and was delighted by the competitive performance of his Ignis throughout the event.
"Overall our performance exceeded our expectations," said Schelle, "and it is impressive that the car reached this level of achievement in its first year. It feels powerful, easy to drive, and is clearly capable of beating much more established opposition."
Schelle's car was impeccably reliable throughout and particularly during the tortuous last leg, which saw crews cover 88 kilometres over four stages with two runs over two mountainous asphalt stages. In the afternoon, drivers had to be careful of slippery gravel on the road, caused by cars cutting the corners on previous runs through the stages.
"That was just one of the dangers we had to look out for," explained Schelle. "Sanremo is a very difficult rally, and before starting it I felt quite nervous. I had never been on these roads before, and I had absolutely no idea what our level of performance would be like. However, the roads turned out to be extremely enjoyable, and the car was also very easy to drive. It was a pleasure to compete on this rally, and a pleasing to bring Suzuki another result they can be proud of."
Schelle started the day keeping a close eye on Roger Feghali's Ford Puma, who was behind him in eighth. But Feghali soon realised he could not consistently match Schelle's pace, and the duo held station until the end.
Suzuki Team Finland's Juha Kangas finished 14th on the event. The young Finn - inexperienced on asphalt - had been held up by brake problems over the opening leg, and concentrated on accumulating as much sealed-surface experience as possible.
The third Suzuki Ignis, piloted by up-and-coming Japanese driver Kazuhiko Niwa, was unable to make the finish following an accident on the second leg. But Niwa too learnt a lot about the car and the rally, and he is looking forward to getting behind the wheel again. Niwa was also able to get used to hearing pace notes in English for the first time, having previously been used to Japanese notes.
Suzuki Sport boss Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima was also impressed by the performance of the car and its drivers. "This was a very productive and encouraging event for Suzuki," he said. "Niki drove an excellent rally. It was an impressive performance and I think the main reason why he did not finish on the podium was because there were so many Italian local drivers who knew the roads very well and have been very strong rivals."
The Next Round - Britain's Network Q
The next and final round of the Junior World Championship is the Rally of Great Britain - the Network Q - from 14 to 17 November. From the hot and twisty Italian asphalt, crews will have to switch to the fast but muddy forests of Britain.Published 23 September 2002