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Rallye de France - Tour de Corse

Suzuki World Rally Team climbs steep learning curve on WRC debut

Event news:
Suzuki's eagerly-awaited debut with the SX4 World Rally Car will finally take place on this year’s Rally de France, based in the town of Ajaccio on the French island of Corsica in the Mediterranean.

Famous for Napoleon, spectacular scenery and breathtaking mountain roads, Corsica is one of the most fearsome events on the World Rally Championship. The route runs high into the mountains around Ajaccio, featuring narrow and twisty asphalt roads characterised by several hairpin bends and surface changes. The event has been traditionally nicknamed "the rally of 10,000 corners", on account of its constant changes of direction. The road surfaces can vary from new asphalt with good grip to shiny and slippery old asphalt with no grip at all in the space of just a few metres. The roads are often very bumpy as well, making suspension set-up absolutely critical.

Tyre choice is complicated because of all the different levels of grip, and the uncertain weather that is typical of Corsica in October. While the weather in the service park in Ajaccio - at sea level - is often warm, it can be a very different story high up in the mountains. Rain, fog and mist are a distinct possibility, often arriving without warning. As tyres have to be chosen during the service halt, two hours before the stages are run, it is often difficult to judge the correct tyre option.

In order to succeed in Corsica, commitment and precision is required. The roads are extremely narrow, meaning that the pace notes have to describe very accurately where the car should be placed on the road. There are also some very steep drops by the side of the stages, making Corsica an epic challenge that rewards bravery.

For Suzuki though, there will be no heroics. The aim is firmly to get the all-new SX4 WRC to the finish, as part of its ongoing development programme this year.

Car news - Suzuki SX4 WRC n.19:
Suzuki will run just one SX4 WRC in Corsica, for Frenchman Nicolas Bernardi. The car will run in full asphalt trim, with lowered suspension and stiffened roll bars to counteract body roll and increase cornering speeds. Suspension springs and dampers will be adjusted in order to negotiate all the bumps that are typically found on Corsican asphalt while providing maximum traction. The brakes used on asphalt rallies are also bigger than those used on gravel and have extra cooling, in order to stop the car quickly and consistently from high speeds. A number of components will be used for the first time in Corsica, putting the emphasis firmly on testing. Rather than running specific parts tailor-made for Corsica, Suzuki will be concentrating on overall development of the asphalt specification for the SX4 WRC during the rally.

Driver news:
Suzuki World Rally Team driver Nicolas Bernardi - co-driven by Belgian Jean-Marc Fortin - will have the distinction of leading Suzuki into a new WRC era, thanks to his noted speed and consistency on asphalt. The 30 year-old finished second in the 2004 Junior World Rally Championship, and has concentrated on building up experience at the highest level of the sport ever since. In 2005 he competed in Corsica for the Peugeot factory team, finishing eighth overall to take his first World Championship point. He joined Suzuki halfway through this year to spearhead the SX4 WRC’s asphalt development programme.

Nicolas said: "It’s a very big honour for me to be entrusted with the debut of the new Suzuki SX4 WRC. But we need to treat this as a life-sized test session. Rather than carry out our development on private roads, we think that we will learn more from real competition. It would be unrealistic to expect to compete with the top runners, as our car is completely new and there are several parts that we will be trying out. Instead, my aim is to get to the finish with the car intact and bring home as much information as possible, which will be vital for the future. From a personal point of view, I love the Tour de Corse: it's an event that has retained all its character and it is a massive challenge for every driver and car. You come out of a stage feeling exhausted because you have to concentrate so hard."

Team news:
Corsica will be as much of a test for every member of the Paris-based Suzuki World Rally Team as it will be for the driving crew of Bernardi and Fortin. For the first time the outfit will work together in real competition, after months of test sessions. Suzuki prepared for the Rallye de France with a final five-day asphalt test last week in the south of France, with Bernardi at the wheel. The test concentrated on endurance work as well as the assessment of new parts that will be tried out in Corsica.

Nobuhiro Tajima, team principal of the Suzuki World Rally Team, commented:
"Finally we are about to realise our dream, which makes it an incredibly exciting time for all of us at the Suzuki World Rally Team. But we also need to be very realistic. More than a rally, the Tour de Corse is an extension of our test programme - where anything can happen, as is normal in testing. My instructions to Nicolas are quite clear: he needs to drive safely and above all finish the rally, in order to accumulate as much data as we can. Only by doing this will we be able to learn enough to take the car’s development forward."

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