Suzuki drivers Guy Wilks and P-G Andersson are ready to give the all-new Swift Super 1600 its asphalt debut, after taking the ceremonial start of Rally Deutschland, round six of the Junior World Rally Championship.
Late yesterday in front of thousands of excited fans, Guy and P-G crossed the start ramp in front of the Porta Nigra monument in Trier, Germany's oldest city. Guy and P-G are currently first and second in the Junior World Championship points standings, and both are aiming to consolidate their positions over the 19 asphalt special stages that make up Rally Deutschland.
Earlier in the week both drivers carried out a two-day asphalt test on stages that are similar to those used on the rally. This was of crucial importance prior to the car's debut on asphalt, as the surfaces in Germany are unique. A good asphalt base setting had already been found, so the test aimed at refining the set-up to suit the particular demands of Germany. A wide range of suspension settings is necessary to cope with the varied terrain and weather conditions. The drivers had no mechanical problems whatsoever, and they are looking forward to getting stuck into the notoriously tough German stages.
As well as the new Swift, four Suzuki Ignis Super 1600 cars also took the start of Rally Deutschland's Junior World Championship event. Suzuki Sport Europe fields two cars for Kosti Katajamaki and Urmo Aava, while Pavel Valousek drives an Ignis run by Czech team JM Engineering. The final Ignis is driven by Martin Prokop and run by another Czech team, Jipocar.
The challenges faced by drivers in Germany include variable weather that can make the stages extremely slippery. This is a particular problem for the Junior World Rally Championship entrants, who rely on only two-wheel drive for traction and grip. The abrasive asphalt roads also make punctures a constant risk. However, Germany holds happy memories for Suzuki: it was the scene of the team's first podium thanks to Niki Schelle in 2002.
P-G Andersson, the reigning Junior World Rally Champion, said: "Germany is a new experience for me, but I feel pretty confident after our pre-event test. I enjoy driving on asphalt, and I'm intending to push hard from the start: I have to if I want to keep my title. It was very exciting to drive our new car on the shakedown stage this morning - the German fans certainly seem to like it!"
Guy Wilks, who is one of the few junior drivers to have competed in Germany before, reported: "We've not stood still: after the debut of the Swift on gravel we're already at the first asphalt event with it. I'm very excited about what we can do, because asphalt is where the car has taken the biggest steps forward. The true test is in competition though - and we'll find out about that tomorrow!"
Suzuki Sport President Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima commented: "We are very proud to see our two new Swifts cross the start ramp for their first asphalt rally! The performance in Finland was very encouraging, but asphalt is a whole new challenge. Our test before the event went extremely well so we are feeling confident. But we are not underestimating the opposition. It should be a very fierce fight!"
The real action on the Rally Deutschland starts this morning at 0900 (CET), with the first of 19 more special stages. The finish takes place on Sunday at 15:30 (CET) back in Trier.
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