Suzuki Ignis Takes Lead
Suzuki Ignis Takes Lead In Junior World Rally Championship
The Suzuki Ignis has moved into the lead of the 2004 Junior World Rally Championship after a convincing victory in the international Rally Great Britain, which ended on September 19.
It was the third successive win for Suzuki, with two of the seven rounds still to be staged.
Guy Wilks, an up and coming 23-year-old British rally driver, won his second JWRC rally of the year for Suzuki in a result that moved him into the series lead.
Despite a puncture and a spin, Wilks drove a cool rally throughout in his bright yellow Suzuki Works Techno Ignis. It was a performance that underlined his status as Britain's most promising young driver.
The three-door Ignis Sport took first, third and fourth positions in the three-day British event following a strong result in the Rally of Finland last month.
In Britain the Finnish drivers Kosti Katajamaki and Jari-Matti Latvala finished third and fourth in their respective Ignis Sports, behind the second placed Opel Corsa of Kris Meeke.
Swedish driver Per-Gunnar Andersson, driving a works Ignis, won his second Junior World Rally Championship round on the trot in Finland and led the first high speed special stage in Britain.
But his luck was not to hold in the UK round. By the end of the first day, Andersson lay second behind the sister team Suzuki of Italian Mirco Baldacci, but a rock punctured a brake hose and the Swede was forced to retire.
With almost 400 kilometres of high speed stages, Rally Great Britain is made up of fast and flowing gravel roads in the forests of south Wales. Although usually run in more wintry conditions in November, the event was brought forward to September this year.
Suzukis were in command of the JWRC class right from the start, and by the end of the fourth stage held the top four positions.
The Ignis won six of the seven stages on the first day, with Baldacci in command. Wilks suffered a ten second penalty for a jump start, then slid wide, hit a bank and knocked a tyre off one of his wheels.
Baldacci maintained a solid lead in the second leg, with a trio of Suzukis leading the rally. By the end of day two, Wilks was half a minute behind the Italian while team mate Kosti Katajamaki ran third.
On the final day, an unlucky Baldacci retired from the lead after rolling his Ignis on the first special stage of the morning.
Wilks inherited the lead which he maintained to the end. "Great Britain is always an unpredictable and incredibly challenging event, all the more so this year," he said at the finish.
In Finland Andersson only won after a tight battle with colleague Katajamaki, while Baldacci was robbed of a podium after a puncture on the last stage, the only obstacle to a Suzuki one-two-three.
Wilks and Jari-Matti Latvala were both forced to retire after going off the road.
Andersson, however, was the sensation in Finland. After taking the lead on the opening day he lost it after a puncture cost him 17 seconds but the Swede regained the front by the end of the first leg.
Risto Laine, the team manager for Monster Sport Europe which campaigns the Ignis rally cars, said, "The Rally Finland was really the first event where we could see the pure speed of the Ignis compared to everybody else.
"Under these demanding circumstances, the performance of the car was faultless and robust," he said.
At the finish of the British rally, Laine said it has taken almost three years to get a Suzuki driver into the lead in the Junior World Rally Championship.
Wilks has 26 points in the championship, ahead of Nicolas Bernardi's Renault Clio, Katajamaki, P-G. Andersson and Urmo Aava. Suzuki Ignis Sports are placed first, third, fourth and fifth in the point score.
In addition to the overall leader, five of the top 12 positions in the championship point score this year are driving Ignis Sports, underscoring the domination by the compact, front-wheel-driven Suzuki.
Katajamaki said, "It's been a tough rally. I've been flat-out all the time and the car responded brilliantly."
Backed by twice World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm, Katajamaki said his Ignis has been totally reliable in the British event, with his only problem being a puncture.
The Suzuki team is now preparing for the penultimate round of the championship in Sardinia on October 1 to October 3, and go to Italy as favourites.
The all-conquering rally Suzukis are based on the Ignis Sport production model which is sold in New Zealand with the lively and versatile 1.5 litre, variable valve, double overhead camshaft engine.