by Rob Wilkins


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 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?

Michel Nandan:
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?

The car performance wise is still behind. There is still a lot of work to do but this is quite normal for a new car and a new team. There is still a long way to go. But from the base of the car and knowing what can be done in the future it is a good start. We have to work quite hard though in order to step-by-step 'grow up' and be competitive like our main rivals. This will not happen in a few rallies but the plan is within one or two years to reach this level.
What advantages does the SX4 have and what disadvantages does it have in relation to the competition?

The car has some advantages because of its size. It is quite a small car with good dimensions and even if some dimensions, like the height, aren't so good for a competition car, it doesn't have a big effect in rallying. In general the base is good and basically the car is a good compromise to be a WRC machine. The disadvantages are what I say, that the car is quite high. But this is in general a tendency for all the cars now, the new evolutions. This is a bit of a disadvantage, especially in terms of aerodynamics. But on rallies this is a bit less important than on circuit racing. Overall I think the car is a good starting point. I don't see any reason why it cannot be a good car if everybody is working in order to do it.
How much of an issue is the height of the SX4?

It won't have too much affect. It will only really affect things on the very high-speed rallies. However there are not a lot of these in the championship and the compromises with all the rest of the car are much better.
I believe the SX4 WRC can be adapted to be both a WRC car and/or Super 2000 car can't it?
When the car was designed we were thinking about this possibility and in some areas it has been designed thinking about the Super 2000 regulations. It is true that it can be made into a S2000 car quite quickly from the base we have. It is not a very big job - at least in terms of design. Of course in terms of parts it will be different. For example, the bodyshell is quite a specific specification for a WRC car. The main layout though can be the same and quite a lot of parts actually can be used for Super 2000 - if it is a target. So this car, at the moment it is a WRC, but to think about a Super 2000, it can be converted I would say quite quickly.
What do you think of Super 2000 cars? How good are they? Are they a good way forward?

It depends on what the FIA - the sports governing body - wants to do. Normally there are different levels in rallying. It was suppose to be Super 1600, which is the first competition car for young drivers. Then after it was Group N and Super 2000, which were the second levels, and then the top level was meant to be WRC cars, which are higher in performance than S2000 and S1600. WRC cars were supposed to be the top category. After it depends what is decided politically by the FIA - if they want a really top level car or if they want to stay with a medium level car or whatever. It is more for political reasons than anything else.

Of course a Super 2000 is much less expensive than WRC and probably it would be more accessible for different manufacturers. But it is a completely different car in terms of performance. Normally the tendency is to reduce the costs. Maybe if the World Rally Championship needs or wants a bit of a top category it should be a compromise between the WRC car and the Super 2000. At the moment we don't know. I think the FIA will decide quite soon what will be the future - but for now, at least for the next three years, the regulations are WRC.
Would S2000 cars cap technology in the sport too much?

Super 2000 is a good compromise for a competition car - it is still a racing car because you are allowed to do enough modifications. The only thing, which could be a bit of a problem, is the performance. If all the cars are like that it will be hard to get an advantage. But if you consider the weight of the car and the power with a normal aspirated 2-litre car its engine, it is true that it is not so much. But after that, as I say, it is more a political decision than anything else. I think S2000 is already a good car and if this category has to be the top for rally and the World Rally Championship this is another story.
For the future, what do you think of the use of bio-fuels and so on? Is that the way forward?

This is the plan anyway. It has been planned for a few years now. This will be introduced soon by the FIA and some tests will be done. It is something which should be done. I think it is a main concern for everybody in motorsport.
How important is it for the WRC to go 'green' and embrace more environmentally friendly technology?

It is important to show that people are concerned about that - and that things can be done. I think with technology now-a-days we are able to do quite a lot of things and especially in this area things have to be done because everybody is concerned about the environment. If things can be done in motorsport and especially in rally we have to do it. The FIA understands this and it [bio-fuels] will be introduced quite soon.




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