Suzuki is a spirited brand with a strong motorsport legacy – and the high-profile presence of the SX4 World Rally Car at the Johannesburg International Motor Show is testimony of the brand’s commitment to top-level competition.
For Suzuki, the WRC entry is not just about the quest for glory in motorsport. It is one of the automobile division’s most important initiatives in recent years, providing technical feedback that will assist in the development of new models in the future.
It is the pinnacle of Suzuki’s motorsport participation, which includes various categories of the sport.
In motorcycle racing, Suzuki has a proud history in MotoGP, the World Superbike Championship and in Motocross. Nor is the Japanese manufacturer a stranger to four-wheeled competition.
Suzuki has participated in a number of different series, including the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. In particular, Suzuki has a proud, championship-winning track record in the Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC).
Off to a promising start
The SX4 made its full-time World Rally Championship debut at the start of the 2008 season on the Monte Carlo Rally, and this year’s campaign is seen as a strategic development year for the Suzuki World Rally Team.
This followed the announcement of Suzuki’s WRC effort in 2006, supported by a full year of development in 2007 – including completing two WRC events at the end of the season in a prototype version of the SX4.
Nevertheless, the SX4 WRC has already shone on numerous occasions this year, with Per-Gunnar Andersson and co-driver Jonas Andersson claiming the team’s first points on the treacherous opening round.
Supported by experienced team-mates Toni Gardemeister and co-driver Tomi Tuominen, the Suzuki WRC outfit has enjoyed several points finishes – a very impressive effort considering the exceptionally competitive nature of this sport.
To date, the team’s best result in the 16-round championship was achieved at Rally New Zealand in August, where Andersson crossed the line in sixth place overall, one place ahead of Gardemeister.
A proud legacy
In 2002, Suzuki began competing in the Junior World Rally Championship with a 1,6-litre version of the Ignis. The following year it entered four cars in the championship and, in 2004, won the JWRC title with Per-Gunnar Andersson.
For the 2005 season, the Suzuki rally team expanded its efforts and contested all the JWRC rallies in the series, with the Swift 1600 making its debut in Finland. British driver Guy Wilks finished runner-up in the standings that year.
In February 2006, Suzuki announced its decision to step up to the premier league of the World Rally Championship with the SX4. At the same time, in the JWRC, Andersson ended the season third in the Swift S1600, with team-mate Wilks fourth.
Suzuki’s determination paid off in 2007 as Andersson won the JWRC for the second time – the only driver ever to achieve this feat – while Urmo Aava ended runner-up in an identical Swift S1600.
During the same period, the Suzuki World Rally Team was flat out with the development of the SX4 WRC car from its new base near Paris.
The car had its first outing on the asphalt roads of Corsica, where it finished 31st overall. Just seven weeks later the SX4 made its gravel debut at the Wales Rally GB, crossing the line in27thplace.
The bespoke Suzuki SX4 WRC is a potent rally weapon. In 2008 specification, it is powered by a highly modified, turbocharged J20 two-litre, 16-valve engine delivering 235 kW of maximum power and 590 Nm – more than enough to propel the 1 230 kg racer to dizzying speeds.
The SX4 WRC is has permanent four-wheel drive, fed by a five-speed sequential manual gearbox via a triple-disc carbon clutch. Huge disc brakes provide stopping power commensurate with the car’s performance potential.
Suzuki called on a wealth of experience for its 2008 driver line-up. Finnish ace Toni Gardemeister is no stranger to the championship, having already competed in almost 100 WRC events by the time he joined the Suzuki squad at the beginning of the year.
Gardemeister has enjoyed works drives with Ford and Skoda in previous years. The 2005 season is rated as his best to date, having finished second on the Monte Carlo and Acropolis rallies, and fourth overall in the WRC standings.
He is partnered with fellow countryman and co-driver Tomi Tuominen, who has two Finnish rally championship titles to his credit.
Swede Per-Gunnar Andersson is a graduate of the Junior World Rally Championship, having won the JWRC crown on two occasions for Suzuki – in 2004 and 2007.
This is backed up by Norwegian Rally Championship crowns in 2002 and 2003, and Swedish Rally Championship victories in 2003 and 2004 – titles he shares with long-time co-driver Jonas Andersson.