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Technical Manager - Michel Nandan interview

Interview with Michel NANDAN
Job Title: Technical Manager
48 years old, born in Monaco in 1958

Michel Nandan has been in two WRC teams before joining Suzuki. He began his WRC career at Toyota Team Europe (TTE) when the company carried out the rally program the Celica GT-FOURs (ST185 and ST205), which won 17 WRC events under their belts. The technical guru from Monaco led the concept development for the Corolla WRC. Then, he moved to Peugeot to be responsible for the 206 WRC and 307 WRC programs. Two cars jointly won 27 rallies at the highest competition level. In addition to a variety of the experience in rallying, he worked for the touring car programs both at the national and international levels.

Q : How did you join Suzuki?

A : I was in charge of the Peugeot 206 WRC and 307 WRC projects.  You know what occurred to the French company's program.  They decided to officially withdraw from the competition.  And in 2005 I began to be in touch with Tajima-san, whom I have known for six or seven years since a friend of mine let us met each other in Rally Portugal.  That is the major reason why I am here.

Q : What impression did you have on Suzuki before actually joining the company?

A : It was good.  I have known Suzuki for a long time.  My first motorcycle was Suzuki RM125, a motocross bike.  Other than the motocrosser, I have owned the GT380.  The exhaust sound was simply superb.  I am looking for a 750cc water-cooled three-cylinder!

Q : What was your first impression on Suzuki SX4 WRC?

A : When I was approached by Tajima-san, my request was very simple: One, I just wanted to see the car. Two, I wanted to check whether I would be interested in the car. Now I am here. You can imagine very easily what impression I had at the time, cannot you? For instance, This car is quite interesting from the dimensional viewpoint. The SX4 is very compact in terms of dimensions, which should offer an advantage as a rally car. I have had good experiences with the campact car previously. OK, the car still has some shortcomings but I am fully convinced it features a greater number of advantages, one of which is its compactness. I am a strong believer that compact is beautiful!

Q : Would you tell me more about the advantages the SX4?

A : Talking about the advantages of our car does not necessarily anything. Other cars have their own pluses, don't they? Nevertheless, I would like to draw your attention to the compactness of Suzuki. As I said before, compactness is beautiful. Also, the SX4 is a well-constructed car, I mean the basic structure is engineered superbly. The suspension is also good, which offers technical leeway within the framework of the WRC technical regulations. I don't think, however, there would be much performance gain against the competitors because all the teams develop the cars in accordance with the identical rules. Another important technical criteria that we have to think seriously is an engine. We will modify the base engine drastically but a successful development of the WRC power unit requires a good foundation especially in terms of basic design and construction.

Q : And disadvantages, if any?

A : I must say that the car is quite tall. But we will manage to cope with it. In any case, it is not really a disadvantage. There is greater technical freedom in rallies than in sprint races. We will be able to find the solution that would offer us the best compromise, which is good for us.

Q : How will you make the car competitive?

A : OK, we have to make it competitive. But, before doing anything, we must concentrate to ensuring the car's strength and reliability. Nowadays a rally has been a bit more like a sprint race. Nevertheless, the introduction of the new regulations requires us to use each component and part for an extended period of time. In a sense, it is a movement back to the good old rallying days!
Durability has become one of the most important issues. On that basis, we are able to improve the whole package including the car's dimensions and size, components and parts, as well as suspension systems. Watanabe-san, who is in charge of the engine development at Suzuki Sport, would do a good job, which I have no doubt, and we will be alright and, for sure, the car should have a winning potential.

Q : What prospects do you have for the future of Suzuki?

A : I am expecting that we would reach our goal in three to four years. It is not a drastic target. First, you should have time to build a car and then, develop it correctly. It is not something you could do very quickly. We will do our best in 2007 in order to start in a good shape in 2008. If drivers are good, we would be able to show what the car could do. From the 2009 season on, we will fight for the Championship, hopefully.

Q : The very first competitive challenge will be Rally de France in October.

A : It will be just a test event. No way to try to do anything specially or silly, aiming at winning or finishing runner-up, for example. It will be a test in the realistic rally environment. Our target is to obtain as much information as possible rather than competing in the rally. It might be a bit difficult for drivers to behave themselves behind the wheel to think it would be a test.
We should not put pressure on the team in the rallies we are doing this year. As I said before, the 2007 program is a testing operation. We will focus to what we should do this year as a preparatory program for the genuine challenge in the following season.

Q : Do you have any comments to rally enthusiasts, especially for Suzuki supporters?

A : Yes. My message could be that everybody in the team is committed to doing as much as possible this year to develop the car in the best and right direction. And at the beginning of 2008, we will be there and show how good the Suzuki SX4 WRC is.