Suzuki aims to make use of precious Sardinian experience
Like all the events, Sardinia will be a new adventure for the SX4 World Rally Car, but the Italian rally is actually the one where Suzuki as a manufacturer has accumulated the most experience. Sardinia has formed part of the Junior World Rally Championship since the gravel event arrived on the WRC calendar in 2004 - and this year is no exception. Consequently Suzuki has already wrapped up four participations in Sardinia, resulting in two class wins and two further podiums.

Nonetheless, Sardinia is renowned as being one of the most complicated events on the World Championship due to its inconsistent surfaces and grip levels, which can easily catch out the unwary. Some stages have a hard surface and others are softer, but they all become extremely treacherous during the second run when sharp rocks are often revealed, which can cause punctures.

Having now accumulated knowledge of three gravel events so far this year, Suzuki is hoping to capitalise upon the experience gained to date. Conditions are likely to be hot and dusty in Sardinia but the rally route has not changed considerably from previous years, taking in a number of stages through the millionaire's playground that is known as the 'Costa Smeralda' (Emerald Coast).

The Rally d'Italia gets underway with a ceremonial start in the glittering resort of Porto Cervo, at 20:00 on Thursday 15 May. The real action then starts on Friday morning at 09:43, with the first of 17 all-gravel special stages to the north-east of the island. In total the rally will cover 342.86 kilometres, with the central service park located as usual in the port of Olbia. The rally finish is scheduled for 14:30 on Sunday.

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Car news - Suzuki SX4 WRC n.11 (Gardemeister) and n.12 (Andersson):
Suzuki has accumulated some useful knowledge of Sardinia from previous successful participations in the Junior World Rally Championship. The team has also learnt a number of key lessons from the three gravel rallies held so far this year, with some particularly important discoveries made on the most recent rally in Jordan. The hot and sandy surfaces in Jordan, with some intermittent sharp rocks, have a particular relevance to the quite similar conditions expected in Sardinia.

The Suzuki World Rally Team has made some notable steps forward regarding the differential and suspension geometry of the SX4 WRC, as well as improving the under-body protection. The sump guard has also been reinforced, and the ground clearance readjusted.

For Sardinia, the team's priority has been to enhance the general reliability of the SX4 WRC in order to maximise the chances of coming away from the event with the best possible points haul. Once more, the main objective is for both cars to score points in Italy - which would be an excellent achievement on what is still only the sixth rally of Suzuki's first full season.

Driver news:
For once, young Swede P-G Andersson actually has more experience of this event than his illustrious team mate. Whereas P-G has competed on every Rally d'Italia-Sardegna since it joined the World Championship in 2004, Toni Gardemeister did not contest the 2006 event.

Gardemeister also made a bit of rally history by finishing fifth on the rally in 2005. A technical problem had forced him to retire on a previous leg, but he came back under what was then the brand new super rally system and became the first driver ever to score World Championship points after 'retiring' from an event.

This year, he is naturally hoping for a clean run to the finish and no retirements despite the challenging nature of the Sardinian stages. "It's a tricky rally as it is very inconsistent: the grip and the surfaces are changing all the time," said the 32 year-old. "On the whole, the surfaces are quite slippery and soft on the top, with a harder base underneath. It's also quite dusty, so the circumstances are far from easy. The key to success for us will be achieving a good level of reliability. If we can stay out of trouble, then I have absolutely no doubt that we can score points; even quite good points. That has to be the aim here."

P-G Andersson, a former winner of the Junior World Championship class in Sardinia, has always maintained a good feeling with this event. "I like this rally a lot, although you have to be very careful not to pick up punctures - especially during the second run through the stages," he commented. "The main thing I think is to be very neat and precise, which I try to be all the time anyway. I'm feeling reasonably optimistic: we found out quite a few important things in Jordan which could hopefully make a difference for us in Sardinia. We'll certainly have a bit of an attack - that's why we're here after all!"

Team news:
After the extreme conditions of Jordan, Suzuki is aiming for improved reliability in Sardinia in order to fulfil its objective of bringing both cars home in the points. The work carried out in Sardinia will be vital for the future, as the next two rallies afterwards - in Greece and Turkey - will also have similar conditions to those seen in Italy. The Rally d'Italia-Sardinia is therefore a crucial learning opportunity for the entire team, from the very top downwards.

"We still have a long way to go and a lot to improve," said Suzuki World Rally Team Principal Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima. "However, by staying focussed on our common goals and making progress step by step, I am confident that we will eventually achieve our objectives. To succeed in the World Rally Championship is extremely tough, and Sardinia will play an important part in our development process."

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