After two introductory events in 2007, the all new Suzuki World Rally Team enters its first full World Rally Championship season in 2008. With a new car, the SX4 WRC, and a driver line-up that pairs the experienced Toni Gardemeister with one of the WRC’s ascendant stars, two-time Junior champion, Per-Gunnar Andersson, Suzuki could be capable of upsetting some of the more established teams in 2008.
To many people, the Suzuki name is usually associated with the two-wheeled racing version rather than four, but the company’s commitment to the World Rally Championship could change that. Suzuki’s first serious attempts at automotive competition began in 1986 when it partnered Japanese motorsport preparation company, Monster International, to establish a specialist division called Suzuki Sport. Under this banner, Suzuki participated in a number of different series, including the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship and the Pikes Peak International hill climb.
Lead driver for many of the early Suzuki Sport activities was the company’s charismatic president, Nobuhiro Tajima, known as the ‘monster’, who still takes a hands-on approach to his work: Last year he drove a 1000bhp Suzuki Sport XL7 Hill Climb Special to the top of Pikes Peak in a record breaking 10m 01.4s. Next year he’s hoping to do it in less than 10 minutes.
In 2002 Suzuki began competing in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship with a 1600cc version of the Ignis. The following year, it fielded four cars in the contest, and in 2004 it won the FIA Junior World Rally Championship title with Per-Gunnar Andersson.
To gain experience of all the rallies in the series, Suzuki contested all 16-rounds of the WRC in 2005 and introduced a new model, the Swift S1600 in Finland. British driver Guy Wilks finished runner-up in that year’s championship.
In February 2006 Suzuki confirmed its decision to step up to the ‘senior’ level in the WRC with the Suzuki SX4 WRC. A European team base was chosen near Paris and work began on the new car. Meanwhile, in the 2006 Junior Championship, Suzuki finished third with P-G Andersson while Guy Wilks was fourth; both used the Suzuki Swift S1600.
2007 was a busy year for Suzuki, with test and development work on the new WRC project intensifying, and another season in the J-WRC to concentrate on. In fact, the team had its best ever year in the J-WRC. P-G Andersson won the title for the second time, while Urmo Aava finished second in the standings in an identical Swift S1600.
In 2007 Suzuki also tackled two championship rallies with a development version of its new World Rally Car, based on the SX4. The car’s first outing was on the asphalt roads of Corsica, where it finished 31st overall with Nicolas Bernardi at the wheel. Seven weeks later Sebastien Lindholm brought the car home 27th overall on its gravel debut at Wales Rally GB. In December the team announced that Toni Gardemeister and Per-Gunnar Andersson would be the drivers for the SX4 WRC in 2008. Gardemeister will be partnered by co-driver Tomi Tuominen, while Andersson will be partnered by regular co-driver Jonas Andersson.
Gardemeister has started nearly 100 WRC events and has been works driver with Ford and Skoda, while Andersson has won the Junior title in 2004 with a Suzuki Ignis and 2007 at the wheel of a Suzuki Swift.