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Q&A: Paul Wilding - Suzuki: EXCLUSIVE

4 July 2008

by Rob Wilkins


TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH PAUL WILDING: CLICK HERE


Suzuki made the step up to the 'senior' level this season in the World Rally Championship and while the first half was somewhat trying, the pace of the SX4 WRC car was still pretty promising and in total Toni Gardemeister and Per-Gunnar Andersson have combined to notch up ten manufacturers' points. Crash.net Radio's Rob Wilkins caught up with team manager Paul Wilding recently to get his thoughts on the first eight events and to chat about the team's hopes for Finland and beyond...


Crash.net:
Paul, how do you assess the first half of the season for Suzuki?

Paul Wilding:
It has not been an easy first half of the year. It has been six months of learning - a fairly intensive learning experience. We have learnt a lot though and we have made some really good progress. The SX4 World Rally Car has come a long way since we began at the beginning of the year. The team also and the drivers have all learned. I think we have made the most of the last six months.

Crash.net:
How much of a boost was it to get that first two-car finish in Greece?

PW:
It was very, very good. Greece is undoubtedly one of the toughest events in the World Rally Championship calendar. It was very satisfying for us as a team and also for the drivers'. The progress that we have made with the SX4 WRC car has allowed us to construct a couple of cars that are capable of sustaining one of the toughest events in the calendar. It was very, very satisfying.

Crash.net:
One of the big issues for Suzuki has been reliability. What is being done to address those issues?

PW:
We haven't had many problems that have re-occurred and as each problem has happened, it has been addressed. The whole six months so far have been one big testing and learning experience. Each problem as it has occurred has been sorted and rectified. As we are going along it would be unrealistic to think that we wouldn't have problems in our first year of competition. So far we are quite pleased with the progress we are making.

The times that the two SX4 WRC cars were showing in Turkey were by far to date the best times the car has shown - and the best speed. We managed to get both cars there under half a second a kilometre to the fastest vehicle, which happened to be Jari-Matti Latvala, who was significantly faster than everyone else on a few stages. We are very, very pleased with that and the problems that eventually occurred in Turkey were not problems that we have had occur to us before. We will address those and hopefully we will be in much better shape for the next rally.

Crash.net:
What are Suzuki's targets for the second half of the season?

PW:
We have got fairly strong expectations. There have been a number of changes that have been made and those changes will come into effect in Finland. We are planning on doing a test prior to Finland, which should concentrate mainly on the handling of the car and ensuring that the changes that we have made, are working correctly. We anticipate that they will do. But overall we are hoping to increase the reliability and also increase more on the speed as well. We have got two confident drivers and both P-G and Toni have done well in Finland in the past. They know the event and hopefully with the test that we have planned beforehand we should be in fairly good shape for a result there.

Crash.net:
Are the changes for Finland big?

PW:
I don't know completely what the changes are. But I have been told that they have mainly concentrated on the hydraulics and suspension side of the car. It has been a couple of areas that has not been letting us down, but did need improving. From a speed point of view I think we have got that. Now it is just a matter of fine-tuning it in the remaining half of the season. We are very confident and we are looking forward to it.

Crash.net:
There was some speculation the team might run three cars in New Zealand. I understand that is not correct.

PW:
No, that is not correct. I have actually done a little bit of research to try and find out where those stories have come from, but no - it is totally not correct. Nobody from our side has implied that. From my perspective we have no plans to run a third car In New Zealand. It is purely just speculation.

Crash.net:
How much testing is the team doing during this long break?

PW:
During this break, the same as the other teams, we are busy re-stocking our vehicles and building the cars for Finland. We will have a couple of new cars in Finland as well. Obviously we have got a lot of parts that need to be swapped over and re-stocking that needs to be done. As far as the actual testing that is going on apart from individual component testing, which is not done actually on the vehicle, the testing that we will do will be limited to or concentrated on a test just prior to the Rally Finland itself. That is the extent of it at this stage.

Crash.net:
How has the team rated the performances of Toni Gardemeister and P-G Andersson?

PW:
We are very pleased. The drivers' are a little bit disappointed that they haven't been able to show more speed. But the focus for us as an entire team has been to get the car to the finish at each event and that has meant we have had to sacrifice a little bit of speed. No driver wants to be told just to make it to the finish. No driver wants to be told to slow down and preserve the car. But the purpose for us is to make the car into as strong a rally car as possible and as reliable a rally car as possible. If it means we have to sacrifice a couple of events worth of speed to make sure the car is in perfect shape for the rest of the year then we just have to do it. Both drivers are very, very encouraged by the speed though and they are both very pleased with the progress that has been made so far. Hopefully as the year progresses we will be able to let the leash out and let them have a bit more of a run. I am sure that you will see a big difference in Finland.

Crash.net:
I believe P-G has just got a one-year deal, has he done enough to stay on?

PW:
P-G has done everything that has been asked of him. He has performed very, very well. P-G and Toni have done an excellent job and we are very, very pleased with them. At this stage we are hoping that things can continue throughout the year and at the end of the year we will be able to look back and say: 'We have achieved great things'. Obviously P-G has been with us a long time - and the whole spirit of what we are trying to achieve is to show that a new manufacturer can come through the ranks and get to the very top level of the sport, as can a young upcoming driver as well. P-G has been an excellent driver for us over the last four years. He achieved two world titles for us [in the Junior WRC] and he is doing a great job for us now. We are very pleased with what he is doing.

Crash.net:
How challenging has it been for you personally, because you weren't appointed team manager until March?

PW:
That is true - but whenever you have a team with so many different nationalities and cultures involved that can in itself bring quite a few difficulties. But we have worked through those difficulties and as much as we are making progress with the SX4 WRC car, we are also making progress with the Suzuki World Rally Team as well. It can't happen overnight but we are chiselling away and hopefully over the next few events you will see some big changes there as well.

Crash.net:
There have been lots of rumours about Suzuki and speculation the team might take a sabbatical. Is there any truth in that?

PW:
I can't answer that. I haven't heard anything like that. Our focus at this stage is to try and achieve the most that we can possibly achieve this year. You don't enter into a project like this very likely. From an economic point of view just to enter the championship for one year would not make sense. The spirit initially behind entering the WRC I know was for a longer period. As far as the rumours that are going around all I can say at this stage is that they are just rumours. They are just speculation. At this stage we are focusing on the job at hand and putting in the hard work so the benefits can be reaped - and reaped in the future.

Crash.net:
There's still a lot of uncertainty with the WRC, in terms of the future regulations and there is still no central promoter appointed too. How concerning is that for Suzuki and the other manufacturers?

PW:
I think it is a very concerning thing for everybody. A couple of the other manufacturers' have said if the outcome of the discussions that are taking place at the moment are not satisfactory with regard to the future, then they may think about pulling out. From our point of view as well we are in the championship because we understood what the championship was all about. It was about getting out there, it was about promoting the brand and it was about showcasing the SX4 WRC car and Suzuki products to the world. It would be nice if the championship could continue to be promoted and if it can be promoted more in the future then it would certainly be of help.

Crash.net:
The Rallye Monte Carlo won't be apart of the WRC next season thanks to this new rotation system. Is there any chance Suzuki could still do it, especially as it is one of the most famous and prestigious rallies there are?

PW:
It is a great rally and it is quite a challenging event for many reasons. It is very challenging logistically. It is very challenging on the cars. It is very challenging on the drivers too. But at this stage we are a little over six months away from that event. As I said before the priority at the moment is to concentrate on making sure we get the most out of the next seven events. We need to make good progress and focus on building a car that is capable of taking it to the top and challenging the other guys. As far as any participation in Monte Carlo next year goes I would have to say at this stage I wouldn't rule it out. But I can't say whether we will or whether we won't do it.

Crash.net:
Final question, sum up what you want to see Suzuki achieve in the second half of the year?

PW:
In the second half of the season we'd like to think that there are some more consistent finishes on the cards. We'd like to have both cars at the finish of each event. That will be the number one target. Also once that starts to happen - and the changes to the car that we have made get fine-tuned - I think towards the middle of the next seven events you should start to see some very good speed. We are coming up to some good events. The drivers are very, very confident on the events that follow. Towards the end of the year we should be going quite well and anywhere mid-top ten should be achievable.


TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH PAUL WILDING: CLICK HERE


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