Suzuki World Rally team director Shusuke Inagaki has hailed the teams five-six finish on the Pioneer Rally Japan last weekend as proof everything is 'heading in the right direction'.

Although Suzuki has scored points on several occasions this season - its first year at the top level - and Toni Gardemeister and Per-Gunnar Andersson have both shown good pace with the SX4 WRC, the team has struggled at times.

Indeed this has led to unconfirmed rumours that the manufacturer could pull the plug at the end of 2008 and take a sabbatical in 2009. As such this result could not have been better timed, especially as it came on home territory.

"We are all very proud of the achievements of the Suzuki World Rally Team here at home in Japan," said Inagaki. "An important thing to remember is that the rally route was brand new for this year, which meant that nobody started with any real advantage in terms of experience.

"This proves that when the conditions are equal, we can fight with some of the frontrunners. Of course we still have a long way to go and much to learn. But this is the clearest indication yet that everything is heading in the right direction."

Gardemeister and Andersson both figured strongly throughout the three-days in Sapporo and the latter was especially impressive - posting eleven top five times on days two and three, including four second best efforts.

Indeed despite a puncture on SS16, which cost him over two minutes, P-G charged back from ninth to take fifth at the finish - the highest result yet with the Suzuki SX4 WRC.

"I've really enjoyed this event and I hope that we've given all the Suzuki fans here something to remember," said the Swede. "The car has been completely reliable and without the time we lost to stop and change a puncture yesterday, I think we could have been even closer to the leaders.

"This rally shows that all the hard work and development we have put in over the course of the year really works and it is a very encouraging sign for the future. After struggling a bit on the asphalt rallies, my confidence is back to full strength."

Gardemeister meanwhile may not have been quite so quick as P-G, but he also did well and significantly gave Suzuki its first ever stage win on Saturday, when he was joint fastest in SS19 - the third run through the short 1.49 Sapporo Dome super special.

"This has been a very tough but a very good rally for us, which has confirmed what I always thought: when we have a nice clean run with no problems, we are able to fight for a good position.

"I was also really proud to set Suzuki's first fastest stage time on Saturday. Given that we have not even finished our first full year yet and that we have done no testing, it really shows our potential for the future. We head now to the final round of the season in Great Britain with quite a lot of confidence," the Finn summed-up.



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