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Suzuki began its first World Rally Championship event in style finishing in the points of the opening event at Monte Carlo.
Reigning Junior WRC champion Per-Gunnar Andersson finished an excellent eighth on his WRC debut in a World Rally Car, marking the start of the Suzuki World Rally Team's first season in the top category of the sport.
Despite some minor problems on the opening leg, the young Swede set a fifth-fastest stage time and proved himself regularly capable of posting times close to the frontrunners.
After nearly 400 competitive kilometres over ice, snow and some flat-out asphalt mountain roads, P-G and Suzuki have the satisfaction of a top-eight placing.
Toni Gardemeister was on course to join his team mate in a points-scoring finish, having been among the front runners throughout the first three days.
Unfortunately the Finn was forced into retirement at the very end of the penultimate day, but he too managed to set a sixth-fastest stage time and prove that the new Suzuki SX4 WRC has the pace to run towards the front.
The final day's action saw the crews complete two loops of stages over the legendary Col de Turini, where thousands of spectators traditionally gather to cheer on their heroes.
Andersson concentrated on consolidating Suzuki's first points finish, before the rally concluded with a spectator super special stage using parts of Monaco's famous Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit.
Andersson’s SX4 was generally reliable throughout the rally, although the young Swede lost time with a minor driveshaft issue throughout the opening loop of stages on Thursday night near Valence.
Having established an effective set-up in the pre-Monte Carlo test, the team made only small adjustments to the car throughout the rally in order to improve the handling.
Future developments will include work on the launch control system, and refinements to the suspension and differential.
Having moved into the top eight on the third day of the rally, Andersson finished the event a minute and a half clear of his nearest rival.
Gardemeister also made good progress throughout the rally despite some turbo boost problems on the second day. By the third day he had climbed back to 10th place and was set for a points finish, but his SX4 WRC began to overheat on SS14.
The Finn and his co-driver Tomi Tuominen managed to get the car back to the final service park in Valence, but the mechanics discovered that there had been damage to the engine. In order to get to the bottom of the problem, the team decided to retire the car so that the causes could be investigated back at the factory in Paris.
Andersson and Gardemeister reported no problems or punctures with Pirelli's control tyres, which were being used for the first time in Monte Carlo, and the event was also a valuable exercise for the newly-formed Suzuki team - which now consists of 120 people – in the heat of full competition.
Andersson was delighted by his WRC debut after only 500 kilometres of testing before the start of the rally - meaning that he has doubled his time in the car over just the space of the Monte Carlo Rally.
As well as learning more about the SX4 WRC, he also improved his driving technique considerably over all four days of the event.
"There's a lot to learn, but I've really enjoyed it and I couldn't have asked for more. To score points on my debut with a brand-new car is a truly fantastic result. My four-wheel drive experience before this event was limited to just a few rallies in a Group N car and some tests, so for me this rally has been all about learning to use the speed and traction of a World Rally Car.
“There's a lot more to come from both me and the car though. It was very important for me to get a good result here as it means I can head into the next round - my home rally in Sweden - with a very positive frame of mind."
The experienced Toni Gardemeister, driving on his ninth Monte Carlo Rally, was also pleased with his Suzuki debut.
"Without the problems that we unfortunately encountered, we would have been fighting for points here - which I knew was possible from the start and P-G has also proved with his excellent performance.
“It's clear that the car has a lot of potential, so actually I'm very happy. Now that the season is underway, we have to keep working hard to improve the car all the time.
“Our next rally is Sweden, which I like a lot. If we can find a good rhythm, it's certainly possible for us to do well there".
Team principal Monster Tajima described P-G’s points-scoring result as an incredibly proud moment.
"For P-G to finish in the points in his first rally in a World Rally Car is an incredible result and testament to the car and the team".
"This achievement of scoring a point in our very first rally is entirely down to the fact that everybody has been able to work together easily straight away".
“Already the Monte Carlo Rally is a fantastic memory: now we are fully focused in working towards the Swedish Rally in two week's time, where our objective will be to try and finish in the points again - this time with both cars".“Of course it won't be easy, as the path to success is never smooth. But we can promise our complete commitment, as I hope we have already demonstrated so far,” Tajima said.
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