Suzuki World Rally Team embarks on first full season of world rallying
Following two test events in Corsica and Great Britain last year, the Suzuki World Rally Team now embarks on its first full season of world rallying with two new drivers: Toni Gardemeister from Finland and Per-Gunnar Andersson from Sweden, the reigning Junior Rally Champion with Suzuki.

The first of the 15 rounds that make up the 2008 World Rally Championship is the legendary Monte Carlo Rally, the oldest and most prestigious event of the series. Just like the roulette games played in the Principality's famous casino, the outcome of the rally can be a lottery. Conditions can vary many times in the same stage, and it is not uncommon for a stage to start off in bright sunshine and end with snow and ice.

For the second consecutive year, the Monte Carlo Rally will start off in the town of Valence, in the Ardeche region of France, with two night stages on Thursday evening. The route takes in 12 more stages in the area on Friday and Saturday, before moving down to Monaco for four classic stages over the Col de Turini and a super special stage using part of Monaco's famous Grand Prix circuit. The prize-giving ceremony will take place in front of Monaco's Royal Palace on Sunday at 15:30 (CET).

As usual a wide range of conditions are expected on this year's event, making Monte Carlo one of the most difficult rallies on the entire calendar. As well as varying weather, crews face a huge variety of road conditions: from bumpy, broken asphalt with reasonable grip to sheet ice like a skating rink. In total, the rally consists of 365.09 competitive kilometres.

Car news - Suzuki SX4 WRC n.11 (Gardemeister) and n.12 (Andersson):

This will actually be Suzuki's seventh Monte Carlo rally, thanks to a successful Junior World Rally Championship campaign that resulted in two titles, but it is obviously the first time in the Principality with the all-new SX4 WRC.

The SX4 WRC sports a striking new white and yellow livery for 2008, and it has already racked up a number of testing kilometres in the region following a pre-Monte Carlo test at the end of last year with both drivers. Using the valuable experience gained from the two test events in 2007, the SX4 WRC features new differential and suspension settings for Monte Carlo, as well as a raft of other improvements under the skin.

Like all the other cars, the SX4 WRC will run on Pirelli's all-new control tyres introduced for this year. These tyres are not permitted to have anti-deflation mousse, and only one type of tread pattern and compound is allowed per event, in order to reduce costs. However drivers are permitted to hand-cut the tyres to help disperse water or loose gravel, and for Monte Carlo a short stud can also be used if necessary, to find grip in icy conditions.

The entire Suzuki team is eagerly awaiting the unique challenge of Monte Carlo, and the whole 2008 season.

Driver news:
For the first time, the Suzuki World Rally Team will run two cars, as it will over the rest of the season. The 32 year-old Toni Gardemeister starts his ninth Monte Carlo Rally this year, and it is one of his favourite events. The Finn was on the podium as recently as 2006, and he has finished in the points on five occasions. His co-driver this year is Tomi Tuominen, who knows the SX4 WRC well after partnering Sebastian Lindholm on the Rally GB last year.

Gardemeister said: "It's fantastic for me to be back in the World Championship with Suzuki, and if things go well for us in Monte Carlo I think we can come away with points. The car is still new, so we're not going to be on the pace of the frontrunners yet, but the overall set-up and reliability is good. The SX4 has a very compact wheelbase so it changes direction quickly, which will be very useful on the fast and twisty roads of Monte Carlo. This is always an unpredictable event, but I think that mixed conditions could actually work in our favour. I'm particularly looking forward to the Col de Turini stages on Sunday: these are unique stages and I've always had a very good feeling with them." For 27 year-old P-G Andersson, co-driven by Jonas Andersson, Monte Carlo will be his first-ever World Championship event in a World Rally Car. The young Swede has completed around 500 kilometres of testing with the SX4, so he still has to climb a steep learning curve. Nonetheless, the Monte Carlo Rally is not entirely new to him as he competed on the event in 2004 and 2005 with an Ignis Super 1600.

"I can't wait to get started!", said P-G. "Obviously getting to the finish and gaining more experience will be the priority for me. Going from a Super 1600 car to a World Rally Car is quite a big jump as everything happens so much quicker. It's also important to get the pace notes right: there are some corners that you wouldn't even bother noting in a Super 1600 car but in a World Rally Car you really feel them! It's important for me to have a solid run in Monte Carlo, so that I can go into my home event - the Swedish Rally, which is next on the calendar - with a lot of confidence."

Team news:
For the entire Suzuki team, the Monte Carlo rally opens a new chapter in the manufacturer's prestigious history. New arrivals at the team this year include Shusuke Inagaki as technical director and Akira Kawada as team manager.

Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima, principal of the Suzuki World Rally Team, commented: "As we embark on our full first season, our goal is to make steady progress by taking one step at a time. Results are obviously important, but we cannot get ahead of ourselves either. In our debut year, it's only natural to expect a few minor problems and we're grateful to have a driver of the calibre of Toni Gardemeister to help us improve. P-G Andersson is at the very start of his career, so his job is to learn as well. We all share the common objective of performing to the best of our abilities, and increasing the profile of Suzuki's compact cars all over the world."

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