WRC

Rallye San Remo: final report

Peugeot driver Gilles Panizzi has won the 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Sanremo Rally in northern Italy. The Frenchman, navigated by his brother Herve, finished more than ten seconds clear of Citroen's Sebastien Loeb after ...

Peugeot driver Gilles Panizzi has won the 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Sanremo Rally in northern Italy. The Frenchman, navigated by his brother Herve, finished more than ten seconds clear of Citroen's Sebastien Loeb after three days of intense competition in the mountains above the Mediterranean coast. Today's four stages were held in mixed conditions, with some drivers rating the final pair of tests - run in thick mist with standing water and soaking leaves on the road - as the hardest they'd faced all season. But although Panizzi allowed Loeb to eat into his 40-second overnight advantage, he matched his young rival's pace in the last stage to secure his third WRC rally win.

Panizzi's team-mate Didier Auriol claimed third on an all-French podium and since Citroen is not eligible for manufacturers points, Peugeot scored a maximum 16 points from the event to move into third in the makes' series. There was less movement in the drivers rankings, however, since title hopefuls Colin McRae and Tommi Mäkinen both failed to score points. The only real beneficiary was Carlos Sainz, whose drive to fourth overall inched him past Richard Burns and into third place in the title race.

PEUGEOT

Technical: The 206 WRCs of Gilles Panizzi and Didier Auriol have been reliable today. Marcus Grönholm was not so fortunate, however - the reigning world champion's car lost its power steering 10km into the opening stage, and he lost around two minutes as a result.

Sporting: Gilles Panizzi kept his concentration and didn't allow a rapidly-closing Sebastien Loeb to force him into a mistake during today's four stages. Overnight leader Panizzi admitted that he was perhaps too cautious in the penultimate stage, where Loeb scythed more than 20 seconds out of his advantage, but he increased his pace again for the last test and won the event by more than 10 seconds. With Loeb not registered for manufacturers' points, Didier Auriol had little to gain from chasing after the Citroen driver, so the 1994 world champion backed off to secure third overall and a maximum points haul for his team. Marcus Grönholm's hopes of even keeping Auriol in his sights this morning were destroyed when his 206 WRC's power steering failed on the first test of the day and he lost two minutes. The world champion recovered in the last pair of stages but he couldn't catch François Delecour and had to settle for seventh.

Quotes: Gilles Panizzi said: "It was really difficult today because the roads were in a very slippery condition and of course, I knew Sebastien would be closing on me. I was a bit too cautious in the stage before last but running first on the road wasn't easy. I was finding all of the slippery bits underneath the trees and on the leaves, and it would have been easy to slide off the road. I'm delighted with the result - it's good for me to win again and Didier's finish means it's a fantastic day for Peugeot. I can't wait for Corsica."

Didier Auriol said: "I've never seen stages like the ones this afternoon. I don't like fog normally but it was worse than ever - and the road surface was incredible. There were leaves, big puddles of water and even some chestnut shells that made it all very greasy. I'm just glad to get to the finish - it's no secret that this car, with the five-speed gearbox, wasn't exactly how I wanted it but it's been very reliable and it's clear that we're competitive."

CITROEN

Technical: The sole remaining Xsara WRC of Sebastien Loeb has been reliable today.

Sporting: Sebastien Loeb maintained his pace during today's four stages, but the Xsara's apparent strength on the longer test (25km) allowed him to eat into leader Gilles Panizzi's advantage. On the penultimate test, the runaway FIA Super 1600 Cup leader scalped more than 20 seconds from his rival to enter the last stage just 11.8 seconds adrift, but when Panizzi responded Loeb settled for second on his first world championship outing in the Xsara WRC. He must return to his 1600cc Saxo for the next event in Corsica, though.

Quotes: Sebastien Loeb said: "I wasn't really thinking of victory this morning - I was just trying to keep a good speed and not make any mistakes in the difficult conditions. That's all I've been trying to do all event, especially after Philippe (Bugalski) and Jesus (Puras) retired. It's obviously a fantastic result for me on my first world championship rally with the Xsara, but it's also a good result for everyone in the Super 1600 championship because it shows what can happen. I hope that I get another chance in this car soon so I can get more experience, because that was the most difficult thing for me."

Citroen Sport boss Guy Frequelin said: "What Sebastien has achieved here is exceptional. He started well enough but he seemed to get better as the rally went on. We all knew before the rally started that this was a good opportunity for Sebastien to show what he can do and I believe he's succeeded. We're also pleased that his car worked without any real problems - that's a good sign to the team that we're working in the right direction."

FORD

Technical: The Focus RS WRC01s of Carlos Sainz, François Delecour and Colin McRae have been reliable today.

Sporting: Carlos Sainz pushed hard in this morning's changeable conditions to quickly overhaul Italian privateer Renato Travaglia and move into fifth overall. It then became fourth when Marcus Grönholm's hopes were hit by power steering problems. Sainz fended off Travaglia during this afternoon's stages to hold his position to the finish and score three points in the world drivers' championship. He now moves into third in the series, seven points behind joint leaders Tommi Mäkinen and Colin McRae. McRae also put in a charge, passing Simon Jean-Joseph's privately-run Peugeot and then overhauling Petter Solberg's Subaru to score a potentially crucial extra manufacturers' point for Ford. His eighth overall did not bring him any drivers' series points, though. François Delecour was promoted to sixth by Grönholm's problems and the Frenchman set fastest time on the last stage of the rally to ensure that he held onto the last points placing.

Quotes: Carlos Sainz said: "If you'd said before the start of this rally that we'd end up scoring three points, we'd probably have doubted it, so we have to say we're reasonably pleased to take something away. We took a lot of risks today and it paid off - now we have to see how the package works in Corsica."

Colin McRae said: "This afternoon wasn't a good time to chase after places and points - in some places it was pretty dangerous. The fog on the penultimate stage was so bad that you couldn't even see where the water was running across the road. It obviously hasn't been that good a rally for us but once we got the differential problem sorted we were at least able to set respectable times. I don't know if that will be enough for us to stand `a chance of getting a point in Corsica, though."

SUBARU

Technical: The Impreza WRC2001s of Petter Solberg and Markko Martin were reliable today.

Sporting: Petter Solberg tried to keep hold of his overnight eighth place today but the charging Colin McRae sneaked past the Norwegian in this afternoon's tricky conditions so he had to settle for ninth. The result bagged two points for Subaru in the manufacturers' series, though. Team-mate Markko Martin crashed out heavily on the penultimate stage when his Impreza aqua-planed on a high-speed section, hit a wall and rolled.

Quotes: Petter Solberg said: "The final couple of stages were really difficult, with a lot of standing water and slippery leaves on the road. But I can take a lot of good experience from this rally and I'm encouraged at some of the times I've been able to set."

Markko Martin said: "When the car hit the wall it flipped upside down and from that point on we were just passengers. It's been a disappointing event for us so I'm going to forget it and start again in Corsica."

MITSUBISHI

Technical: Tommi Mäkinen's Lancer Evolution WRC was basically reliable on this morning's first two stages but on the third test the Finn clipped a wall and ripped off the left-front wheel. Freddy Loix's Lancer was also reliable, although the Belgian was troubled by a badly steamed-up windscreen in the wet conditions this afternoon.

Sporting: Tommi Mäkinen continued to experiment with springs and damper settings this morning as he tried to rebuild confidence after a high-speed 'moment' on yesterday's final stage. But on today's third test, the Finn hit a patch of standing water and hit a wall, ripping off the left-front wheel and retiring on the spot. Freddy Loix tried different settings as well, and eventually finished in 12th.

Quotes: Tommi Makinen said: "It's been a difficult rally for us, because it's clear the car needs a lot more work in various areas. The accident was down to the conditions, because the fog meant that I couldn't really see the water on the road and we lost traction when we hit a stream of water. We have lots of things that we want to try for Corsica but there isn't much time before then."

Freddy Loix said: "We had a lot of water in the car for the last two stages and the windscreen steamed up, so we backed up to make sure we reached the finish. We've learnt a lot and played around with the settings but I've been involved with a brand new rally car before and it always takes time to get the car up to speed."

SKODA

Technical: The Octavia WRC of Bruno Thiry was reliable today, apart from a slightly soft brake pedal towards the end of the first test. Roman Kresta retired his example on the last stage with engine problems, though.

Sporting: Bruno Thiry maintained his steady approach to keep his Octavia just outside the top ten, and the Belgian eventually finished 13th. Team-mate Roman Kresta's debut run in a works World Rally Car ended on the last stage with engine problems.

Quotes: Bruno Thiry said: "The car's been basically reliable and we've found some good settings, but it's clear we need a bit more performance yet. Corsica will be difficult but we are making some progress."

HYUNDAI

Technical: Alister McRae retired late yesterday afternoon, when a soft brake pedal meant it would have been unsafe for him to tackle the day's final stage.

OTHER TEAMS

In the FIA Super 1600 Cup section, local driver Andrea Dallavilla continued his dominance to claim the category spoils in his Fiat Punto. The Italian eventually finished more than four minutes clear of François Duval's Ford Puma, with Larry Cols's Peugeot 206 in third.

Two privateer crews scored top-ten finishes in the overall classification - Renato Travaglia benefited from Marcus Grönholm's problems to finish fifth in his 206 WRC, while Simon Jean-Joseph's similar machine arrived back in Sanremo in 10th. The FIA Teams Cup section was dominated by Henrik Lundgaard and the reigning European champion eventually finished 15th overall.

Alex Fiorio claimed victory in the Group N category for more standard machinery, but second in the class was more than enough for Argentina Gabriel Pozzo to mathematically secure his victory in the FIA World Cup for Drivers of Production Cars.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team