Suzuki SX4 WRC receives a big Kiwi welcome on its New Zealand debut
After completing their final preparations for this week's Repco Rally New Zealand, round 11 of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, Suzuki SX4 WRC drivers Toni Gardemeister and P-G Andersson crossed the ceremonial start line of the event in Hamilton this evening. The local population of this sport-obsessed nation immediately took the Suzuki SX4 WRC - complete with its sporting pedigree - to heart, cheering the number 11 and 12 cars away from the start in the centre of New Zealand's fifth largest city.
Both Gardemeister and Andersson made good use of this morning's shakedown test to confirm the settings of their SX4 WRCs ahead of three days' flat-out action on the Waikato roads. Despite the recent heavy rain in New Zealand's North Island, the stages are in good condition as the drivers look to add to their 2008 points tally.
Car news - Suzuki SX4 WRC n.11 (Gardemeister), n.12 (Andersson):
Gardemeister and Andersson both worked on the differential mapping and suspension set-up for the two Suzuki SX4 WRCs this morning. Any further testing of the car was difficult under the conditions on offer at the Mystery Creek venue, given that it doesn't offer a true representation of the stages which lie in wait for the drivers over the coming three days. Both cars have undergone work on the engine specification since the last rally - and the drivers were delighted with the response and power available from the turbo-charged, two-litre engine.
Toni Gardemeister: "The car felt very good this morning. The engine was great and the suspension was fantastic. I know this shakedown stage isn't like the others we will be doing, but it's good to get a nice feeling with the car straight away. The recce went well for us, but some of the stages don't seem as wide as I remember. Some of the roads seem to have changed quite a bit in recent years. I crashed here in 2000 on the Te Akau North stage and, on the recce earlier this week, I was looking for that place again, but the corner has gone now - it's just a straight piece of road. These are great stages, though. I'm really looking forward to the event."
P-G Andersson: "I came and did this event in the Suzuki Swift in 2005, which has helped give me an insight into what to expect from the rally. Having said that, only one day of the stages are the same as 2005 - the others are all new to me. This is an event where you really have to listen and react to the pace notes. So many of the corners look as though they're going to open up and let you get the power on, but you can't - you have to listen and drive to the notes, otherwise you'll be off the road. Shakedown was good. It's good to be back on gravel. It wasn't much like the stages, but it was good practice for the superspecial - because it is the superspecial!"
Paul Wilding, Suzuki World Rally Team manager: "The team has made some revisions to the specification of the car for this event, following data analysis of the life-span of engine parts. It was good to get early feedback from the drivers at shakedown this morning: it's all been very positive. Shakedown was very good. It's a chance to confirm a few things on the car and give it a final systems check."