by Rob Wilkins
TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH MICHEL NANDAN: CLICK HERE
Michel Nandan is the technical manager at the Suzuki World Rally Team and is responsible technically for all the business relative to the all-new SX4 WRC car. We caught up with the former Peugeot and Toyota man at the end of October
when he spoke exclusively to Rallycourse
and Crash.net Radio
about his role, the challenges it encompasses and more...
Michel, Suzuki has been preparing to step up to the 'senior' level in the WRC since February 2006, all that preparation is now beginning to come good. What have been the main engineering and technical challenges for you?
There is still a lot to do because even though the car has been designed – and the base is there, there is still a lot of testing to do. So far we haven't done so much, even though, we started to test at the beginning of the year. Also to reach the level of our main competitors because they have been in the business for some years and because they have a lot of experience with their cars, it is going to take time. But that is normal for this business. We have to make progress from testing and with development items, and that is a bit difficult. Normally you can see much more the problems when you start to rally. I think it is good then that this has been done and that we have started to do it [and took in the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse]. Work can continue now and this is the only way to improve the car.
How has the challenge with SX4 WRC differed from when you were working on the Peugeot 307 WRC?
The SX4 WRC from its dimensions is quite a good compromise for a World Rally Car. This is quite positive. The lay-out is quite conventional and the engine is a good base. This will give a good opportunity to the engine development engineers.
We have to consider as well with Suzuki the team will be a bit smaller and the investment so far is just at the beginning. The team and the SX4 WRC has to 'grow up' and to improve. But it is still a good challenge because we have to build the team. We are starting from zero - everything has to be done. Suzuki is a very, very new competitor in this business.
How have the rules changed since your time with Peugeot? Are these changes positive?
The rules are going in the right direction, because the changes have been done to save costs - the costs in terms of the car, the costs in terms of development and so on. There are quite a lot of things now, which are not allowed anymore. The cars are much more simple and basic. Furthermore well it is true you can still invest a lot of money there has been a big reduction, especially in parts which can be used in rallies. Compared to a few years ago there are a lot of limitations on the parts which can be used - like the engine which has to do two or three rallies. We are also limited in the number of body shells we can use during one year and also in the parts we can change during an event. Parts like the turbo charger, the gearbox, the suspension and it is more going in the direction of reliability. With these limitations it is reducing a lot of the costs, which is good for motorsport. Cost is the biggest problem for the manufacturer. Every time the costs increase some manufacturers have difficulty in keeping up in order to be competitive. So, all-in-all, the way it is going is in the right direction and in order to give a much better equilibrium between the different manufacturers. The manufacturers' don't need to invest such a big amount of money now as they did some years ago.
What does Suzuki hope to gain from the outings in Corsica and GB?
It was good to start this first event because so far we hadn't done any rallies and it is difficult to know where you are and what the problems are. Of course this year for us it is more to test - it was kind of a 'big test' session. We were not really looking for performance, even though it was good to see where we are. Also even though we had some problems - and for me the car was not performing as well as I was expecting - it was a good help. We had some problems that we hadn't seen during 'normal' testing and this at least shows us where there are some problems. This will help us to improve the car.
How does the Suzuki SX4 WRC compare in your opinion to the cars of your rivals, the Citroen
C4, the Ford Focus and the Subaru Impreza?