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The dream has begun for Suzuki, as the SX4 World Rally Car of Nicolas Bernardi and his co-driver Jean-Marc Fortin crossed the start ramp of the Rallye de France - Tour de Corse, the very first event of Suzuki's world rally adventure.

This year, the Japanese manufacturer will compete on the asphalt roads of Corsica with Bernardi and Fortin, before tackling the gravel roads of Great Britain with Sebastian Lindholm and Tomi Tuominen.

The SX4 WRC had its first taste of action at the shakedown test near Ajaccio, a last-minute opportunity to finalise settings and refine the car before the competitive stages start.

The car posted some respectable times at the shakedown, but as will be the case during the rally itself, the team is looking only to increase the amount of development distance the SX4 WRC has undertaken, with the two rallies this year an extension of the testing programme in preparation for a full campaign in 2008.

During the afternoon, the team hosted a media launch on a ship moored in Ajaccio harbour - the venue for the headquarters and service park of the 13th round of this year's World Rally Championship.

Chief engineer of the Suzuki Motor Corporation, Osamu Honda, was present at the launch, along with Nobuhiro Tajima (the president of Suzuki Sport), Michel Nandan, (the team's technical manager), and the driving crew of Bernardi and Fortin.

The drivers left the press launch as soon as it finished to cross the start ramp at the Place Foch in central Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica.

The route of the Rallye de France has changed considerably for this year compared to 2006, with all-new stages on Friday and Saturday, so nobody starts with an advantage in terms of experience.

Car news - Suzuki SX4 WRC
Suzuki had a successful run through the short shakedown stage this morning, located just outside Ajaccio. The team took advantage of the four-hour session to make several adjustments to the SX4 WRC as it prepared for its competitive debut. As the car has only completed around 1000 kilometres of asphalt testing so far, the shakedown test was a vital opportunity to try out some new solutions that could be used in the rally.

Driver news:
Suzuki World Rally Team driver Nicolas Bernardi - co-driven by Belgian Jean-Marc Fortin - was pleased by the SX4 WRC's performance during the shakedown, finding the car exactly how he had left it during the most recent test sessions in the south of France.

The 30 year-old Frenchman commented: "The car felt very easy to drive during the shakedown, which was the main thing, and its compact dimensions meant that it was easy to handle around the corners. While the feeling was very good, it is important to remember that we can't expect miracles from its first competitive outing.

“Our goal is firmly to get to the end of the rally and accumulate more information for the future. It was fun to have the press conference on the boat in the harbour, and there was a huge amount of interest in us and our car, which was very pleasing."

Team news:
The newly-formed Suzuki World Rally team, consisting of 25 people in Corsica, spent the day learning to work together under competitive conditions for the first time. As well as a life-size test for the car, this year's two rallies will also be a test for the team.

Nobuhiro Tajima, team principal of the Suzuki World Rally Team, commented: "Our team is Japanese, but there are lots of people all over the world working very hard for us now. We are newcomers, so our aim is to get more experience from this rally and have some feedback for the future. Above all we need to get to the finish in Corsica - so we will be continuing our test programme here rather than pushing hard. This is why we are using our test drivers for the two events we are competing on this year. Finally, the adventure has begun!"

Michel Nandan, the team's technical manager, added: "On the whole I am satisfied with our performance in the shakedown today. We have achieved what we set out to do so far: now we have to continue in this way in order to make the most of this valuable testing opportunity."

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