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October 3, 2014

"The four of us will work together and give it our best shot."
An Interview with Dealer Mechanics

Mechanics from dealers were chosen to take part in the Dakar Rally 2015 at a selection event held at Hino Motors headquarters in July. The chosen mechanics were Hironaga Hayashi from Hakodate Hino Motor, Shunsuke Sugawara from Tokyo Hino Motor, Hiroya Fukuno from Yokohama Hino Motor, and Takashi Masuda from Hiroshima Hino Motor. The four mechanics joined the team in late August after the Rally Mongolia 2014 and are currently working as part of the truck fabrication team at Hino Motors' Hamura Plant. As part of our report on these four mechanics on Dakar News, we interviewed them during some off- hours in their busy schedule to ask how they felt about the selection event in July, the truck fabrication process, and their mood as they prepared themselves for the Dakar Rally in January of next year.

-- Were you nervous at the selection event?

Hayashi: Yes, I was. I knew that this would be the first and last time that I would be taking the exam, so I was under definite pressure to pass.

Fukuno: I was also very nervous so I made sure to vocalize and move my body during the practical tests to ease my nerves.

Masuda: I had a general idea of what the tests would be like, but I thought that I might panic when I was on the spot, so before the practical, I discussed things with other people who were taking the same test and tried to do the best I could.

Sugawara: Moving around briskly can help me get over nerves, but my hands were trembling when I was attaching a terminal to a harness so I had to stop working and put my tool down on the desk for a moment.

-- What was your impression of Yoshimasa and Teruhito Sugawara?

Masuda: I've seen them in photos many times before, but I was very nervous to see them in person. As I spoke with them, I got the impression that they were amazing people living in an amazing world. I also felt that I would have to work hard to keep up with these leaders.

Hayashi: The first time I met them, I felt a bit out of place in the same room with celebrities such as the Sugawaras. Yoshimasa sat across the table from me during lunch and he said something to me, but I was so nervous I can't remember what I said.

Sugawara: I sat across the table from Teruhito who talked about the previous trucks, describing their suspension and engines. Yoshimasa is the god of Dakar in my eyes and I couldn't muster the nerve to start up a conversation. I had actually prepared what to say and how to communicate my strengths (laughs), so I was relieved when Yoshimasa broke the ice.

Fukuno: When I was in the restroom before the meal, Yoshimasa came up beside me (laughs) and said out of the blue, "We won't have the chance to go to the toilet throughout the entire race so I suggest you get used to holding it in," to which I reflexively replied, "Yes!" I felt that he was quite a friendly person.

Takashi Masuda, Hiroshima Hino Motor

-- How did the people at your workplace respond when you were chosen as a team mechanic?

Masuda: One of my superiors had also been on the team in the past and encouraged me, "That's great! Go and do your best!" In terms of the workplace, the company has arranged for a replacement during my absence so I would like to make up for that however I can once I'm back. Also, there is a seminar scheduled around the time we return from the rally in which Hiroshima Hino Motor will be organizing presentations by its Dakar Rally participants, so I hope to be able to convey what I have learned. I believe the best souvenir that I can bring back to people at my workplace are the rich experiences that I will have at the rally.

Fukuno: All the people at the branch where I work sent me off with warm words of encouragement. However, I also feel that I may be inconveniencing some people with my absence as this is a busy time of year, although no one will say so out loud. So once I'm back, I would like to work hard to make up for that.

Sugawara: Everyone was so excited at the news that I had been selected! Even my superiors sent me out with well wishes and I received emails congratulating me from other departments and branches. The company gave me a set of tools which will be handed down to future Dakar Rally mechanics from Tokyo Hino Motor, so I intend to take good care of them. Early in August, before I came out here (to the Hamura Plant) they held a send-off party for me and I hear that the entire Tokyo Hino Motor company is planning a pep rally before the race in November. The thought that the entire company, including people that I have never met, is working as a team to back us up makes me very happy.

Hayashi: My boss was very happy for me when I was chosen. This was the first time that Hakodate Hino Motor had applied for a Dakar Rally mechanic position, so we weren't familiar with what the exams were going to be like. People in my workplace were kind enough to ask around to other dealers and even practiced interviews with me, so I'm very grateful for that. However, there are not that many mechanics around me who aspire to take part in the Dakar Rally, so I would like to come home with good results to motivate them into wanting to be part of the Dakar team.

Hironaga Hayashi, Hakodate Hino Motor

-- You are all involved in the truck fabrication process now. How does it compare to your normal day-to-day work?

Hayashi: These trucks are completely different from what we usually work on, so it's a lot of fun. It is tough work and things are done differently here, but I know this will be great experience for me.

Sugawara: The work is tough. Rally trucks use parts that we make ourselves in addition to genuine parts and I'm anxious as to whether these parts will actually hold up during the race. I'm constantly asking questions and learning from the staff at JRM (Japan Racing Management). Some questions never even crossed my mind in the past because in our usual work we use parts that have already been verified for reliability.

Fukuno: It's a struggle. Even if I come up with a layout that I'm quite satisfied with, Mr. Suzuki (mechanic leader) will point things out, saying, "The engine is going to be rocking this way," "It'll move that way too," or "This part is going to get a lot of sand on it." So there are many instances where I have to go back to make corrections. We have to look at things from various angles when making the parts and we also have to think of where to put them. Having said all that, it is fun to the point that I lose track of time (laughs).

Masuda: Making the parts is a challenge. I'm doing things that I've never done before and there are a lot of things that I don't understand or know how to do, but I'm learning with the help of the more experienced people. It's tough, but the work is worth it.

-- The trucks that you are making now will be racing in the Dakar Rally three months from now. Are you in any way anxious about that?

Masuda: To be honest, I don't know what to think at this point because the roads on which these trucks will be racing are not regular roads. I'm sure I'll be anxious for the first few days after the start, but I think I'll gradually get used to it and learn more about the trucks. I would be lying if I said I was not anxious at all, but I'm committed to doing everything that I can every day in South America.

Fukuno: I can't even imagine it at this point. I get the impression that things are really tough from watching videos of previous rallies, but I think there could be difficulties and extremes that go beyond what I can imagine at this point. That said, all four of us are committed to putting all of our effort into overcoming whatever comes our way.

Sugawara: We have videos of the trucks racing, but none of the mechanics at work. I've seen photos, but they don't really tell you what actually went wrong with the trucks or how the mechanics managed to fix the problems. That said, if I learn all I can about the trucks now and become an expert before we leave, I think we will be able to have a good time at the actual race.

Hayashi: I feel a little anxious, but I think we can pull through as long as the four of us work together. The other three are very good at what they do, so I'm sure I will be learning a lot from them. I do a lot of spring replacements in my day-to-day work, so I think I can make a contribution to the team in that area as well as in the area of troubleshooting breakdowns.

Shunsuke Sugawara, Tokyo Hino Motor

-- Do any of the rest of you have any specific areas that you're confident in or that you feel you are the best at?

Sugawara: I've always been confident with my work speed. I think I'm the best around for doing work with a deadline where it absolutely must be done by a certain time.

Fukuno: Well, the other three are too good at what they do ... I guess I can say that I'm quick at what I do. I can't say I'm utilizing my strengths now because most of what we're doing is new and unfamiliar, but I think I can work much faster once I learn more. So I intend to build up confidence in what I am doing.

Masuda: I do a lot of off-site repairs in my normal line of work where the task at hand can often be very difficult to accomplish. So I know I will manage as long as I know enough about the trucks. With off-site repairs, you're responsible for getting trucks or buses back to working condition using only what you have, so I'm confident about keeping the trucks running at the Dakar Rally with the limited number of tools and parts that we will have.

-- Not to be overly hasty, but how do you think you will feel when the trucks make it safely to the finish line?

Masuda: I can't imagine it now, but I think that I will feel very proud that we all worked together. I would also like to let people know that I was able to take part in this accomplishment as a member of the team. Once back in Japan, this experience at the Dakar Rally will be a source of great confidence and will give me the strength to continue working hard at what I do.

Fukuno: We will be spending a total of one and a half months including time for preparation in South America. The race will be two weeks. If we get through it all and are able to win the Class Championship, I think it would be way up there in terms of accomplishments that I can be proud of in my life. I just can't imagine it at this point...

Sugawara: I like being in competitive situations and winning or losing is a big deal for me. If we go beyond winning the Class Championship and actually finish with a high overall ranking, I think my eyes will actually well up (laughs).

Hayashi: I can't imagine it at this point, but once I'm back at my workplace in Japan, I think my superiors will be very happy for me.

Hiroya Fukuno, Yokohama Hino Motor

-- In closing, please tell us what your goals are for the Dakar Rally.

Fukuno: I would like to work closely and exchange ideas with the staff at JRM and Hino Motors headquarters to enhance our teamwork. There are some areas where our opinions differ, so I would like to reconcile these before the rally.

Masuda: All the mechanics here are very skilled and have a wealth of experience, so I hope to come together as a team to voice opinions and improve communication as we lead up to the rally.

Hayashi: I think things can be quite tough for Mr. Suenaga (mechanic sub-leader) so the four of us need to work together to lessen his workload. I am committed to working hard, just as everyone else is.

Sugawara: I only had good feelings about coming here. Actually, I had intended to do things a certain way, but all of those intentions have been shattered by now (laughs). I've been given stern reminders a couple of time and have had some setbacks, but I think I really needed this one-month period and I'm going to reflect on all of it to move forward. I would like to―actually, I need to―get rid of all of my concerns before the race. To do that, I must tackle these concerns about teamwork and the trucks one by one.