Team Suzuki Ignis Super 1600 drivers Nikolaus Schelle and Juha Kangas were welcomed back to the glittering harbour front in Monte Carlo by hundreds of fans on Sunday after exceeding all expectations on their first Junior World Rally Championship event.
A determined drive by Schelle throughout the three days of intense competition in the Junior World Rally Championship, which is the official feeder category for aspiring World Rally Championship, earned the hard-working German and co-driver Gerhard Weiss a brilliant sixth position.
The result puts the Team Suzuki Ignis Super 1600 driver sixth in the Junior World Rally Championship standings with one point, far exceeding any pre-event predictions of anybody in the team.
"I am delighted for everybody with this result," said Schelle, who drove carefully on the final day to ensure he would open the team's points-scoring. "The whole team has been working for many months just to get to Monte Carlo, and I hope scoring this point is a reward for some of the long days and nights they have put in preparing my Suzuki Ignis.
"I have to say that my first impressions of the car are exceptionally good, particularly the engine and the gearbox. We have laid some good foundations for the rest of the season here in Monte Carlo and now we must get to work on the suspension and rear beam to ensure we can continue to move forward on the remaining five events in the year."
Schelle's delight was shared by team manager Norbert Ruths, who was full of praise for his driver and the car. "It has been an exceptional result," he said. "Monte Carlo is the hardest place to learn for a driver, but Nikolaus has shown that the Ignis is already a competitive proposition."
Kangas, who is co-driven by Mika Ovaskainen (Finland), also completed his goal of finishing the event and gaining more experience on asphalt in preparation for the rest of the season. The Finn's ailing gearbox was successfully changed in just 16 minutes and gave him no more problems as he cruised to an encouraging ninth.
"The Suzuki Ignis has been incredibly reliable, and the whole team has done a fantastic job to get two cars to the finish," said Kangas. "Our puncture on Saturday was unfortunate, because I think without that we could have been even higher up the order. In my mind the two strongest parts of the car are the gearbox and the engine."
Kangas' team-manager Risto Laine was upbeat about the result, saying: "This was Juha's first time in a front-wheel-drive car and he doesn't have much experience of asphalt, so to reach the finish is a fantastic result. Juha has learnt a lot and so have we as a team: it is clear that with more sensible development to the car we can move forward again."
Following the event Nobuhiro Tajima, President of Suzuki Sport, added: "We came here in the knowledge that we would have to take time to learn and understand the challenges of the Junior World Rally Championship, so to score a championship point is an incredible achievement."
Junior World Rally Championship Final Results
1 Francois Duval (Ford Puma) 2 Nicola Caldani (Peugeot 206) 3 Roger Feghali (Ford Puma) 4 Daniel Carlsson (Ford Puma) 5 David Doppelreiter (Peugeot 206) 6 Nikolaus Schelle (Suzuki Ignis) 9 Juha Kangas (Suzuki Ignis)Published 2 January 2002