Thursday 4th October FIA World Rally Championship leader Tommi Makinen must rely on an unknown quantity as he aims to get his title bid back on track on the 11th round of the series, the Sanremo Rally, which starts in northern Italy tomorrow....
Thursday 4th October
FIA World Rally Championship leader Tommi Makinen must rely on an unknown quantity as he aims to get his title bid back on track on the 11th round of the series, the Sanremo Rally, which starts in northern Italy tomorrow. The Finn has failed to score on his last two outings, allowing Ford's Colin McRae to draw level on points. And although Makinen has won on the Sanremo asphalt before (in 1999), his chances will depend on the performance and reliability of a brand new Mitsubishi Lancer World Rally Car, which makes its debut in Italy.
Makinen, McRae and other title hopefuls Carlos Sainz (Ford) and Richard Burns (Subaru) face stiff opposition from a host of asphalt experts, including last year's winner Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) and the Citroens of Philippe Bugalski, Jesus Puras and Sebastien Loeb.
FORD (1st - 76 points)
Technical: Ford introduces a number of small revisions to the Focus RS WRC01 for this event. In particular, the three factory cars will all be fitted with a modified camshaft and further engine tweaks, designed to improve top-end power. The cars' suspension geometry has also been changed after considerable testing and discussions with tyre supplier Pirelli.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae are nominated for manufacturers' points, with Francois Delecour eligible for drivers' points only.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "We've made progress with Pirelli since Catalunya in April but I'm not sure if it's enough. Until we get a few stages under our belt we won't know how much everyone else has improved. I'm sure they haven't been standing still. If we get some rain here it'll make things unpredictable, because the roads can get quite dirty too."
Francois Delecour said: "I think some rain would help us because it would make conditions cooler and we've had some concerns about tyre wear in the pre-event tests. But we have done a lot of work on asphalt since Catalunya and I'm sure we'll be more competitive here than we were there."
MITSUBISHI (2nd - 66 points)
Technical: This event marks the debut of Mitsubishi's first World Rally Car. The Lancer Evolution WRC makes use of the regulations to improve suspension travel and weight distribution over its predecessor. Its wheelbase is 90mm longer than the old model, a factor Ralliart is expecting to improve high-speed stability. Ralliart engineers have also made adjustments to the engine position and angle, and lightened the flywheel in an attempt to improve throttle response. The car has conducted extensive testing, since it must carry both Makinen's and Mitsubishi's hopes through to the end of the season.
Sporting: Mitsubishi reverts back to a two-car line-up after Toni Gardemeister's appearances in Finland and New Zealand. Accordingly, Freddy Loix is nominated for manufacturers' points alongside Tommi Makinen
Quotes: Tommi Makinen said: "If it's down to our performance I'm sure we'll do very well. The car's done a total of two and a half weeks' testing and the first signs are quite encouraging, but it's hard to say until we can compare times with the others. So far my feeling with the new car is good and I'm glad to say that we've found no really major problems in the testing either."
Freddy Loix said: "The initial feeling with the new car is that it's much easier to drive than the old model and that'll be useful to me here because a lot of this event is new to me. In terms of performance we haven't done a back-to-back test but the handling is better and the engine feels stronger. I'm optimistic."
SUBARU (3rd- 46 points)
Technical: Subaru has long since ironed out the transmission glitches that hampered Richard Burns on the Impreza WRC2001's last asphalt outing in Catalunya. That aside, changes to the four works cars (for Burns, Petter Solberg, Markko Martin and Toshihiro Arai) are minimal. All four cars will be fitted with the revised, lighter airbox that Burns used in New Zealand, however. Subaru squeezed in an extra three day Sanremo test near Pisa last week.
Sporting: Richard Burns and Petter Solberg are nominated for manufacturers' points, leaving Markko Martin and Toshihiro Arai eligible for drivers' points only.
Quotes: Richard Burns said: "We did our championship chances the power of good by winning in New Zealand, but this will be another hard event. We were quite pleased by the Pirelli tyres in pre-event testing though and the package has definitely moved on since Catalunya. I've got plenty of confidence."
Petter Solberg said: "I know this rally pretty well now and I finished ninth here last year. I'll be disappointed if I don't finish higher than that because I've been able to do a lot of asphalt testing.
PEUGEOT (4th - 44 points)
Technical: Peugeot brings three brand new 206 WRCs to this event for Marcus Gronholm, Didier Auriol and last year's winner Gilles Panizzi. Auriol's 206 is fitted with mechanical differentials at the front and rear, while the cars used by Panizzi and Gronholm are equipped with 'active' hydraulic diffs instead. All three 206s will use the five-speed gearbox instead of the oft-tried six-speed unit.
Sporting: Peugeot has nominated Catalunya Rally winner Didier Auriol and last year's winner in Italy, Gilles Panizzi, for manufacturers' points. Reigning world champion Marcus Gronholm is eligible for drivers' points only, as is Peugeot's other regular driver Harri Rovanpera, who uses a 206 WRC run by Italian private team Grifone.
Quotes: Didier Auriol said: "My feeling with the car is good, but I'd rather we were using the six-speed gearbox instead of the five speed. For my style of driving, the six-speed is definitely faster. But we still have a very good chance here, although there are probably six or eight drivers who can fight for the win."
Gilles Panizzi said: "This is the first time I've competed with the evolution of the 206 WRC and I prefer it to the old car. I'm hopeful we can repeat the result we got here last year, but the stages are quite different. Last year everything was dry but now it's very slippery in places, especially under the trees where the leaves have kept the water. It will be difficult to find a speed on Friday morning."
SKODA (5th - 15 points)
Technical: Skoda has made a few small modifications to the specification of the Octavia WRC. Armin Schwarz's car features a revised centre differential designed to make tyre wear more consistent through stages. Slight alterations to the differential mapping have also made the car more progressive and slightly quicker to react to changes of direction. Skoda is also using an improved specification of shock absorber.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry are nominated for manufacturers' points as usual, but Skoda is also running a third Octavia for rising Czech star Roman Kresta.
Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: "A top ten finish will be a good result for us here. There's a very good entry but if the roads are slippery, then I'm more optimistic."
HYUNDAI (6th - 10 points)
Technical: Hyundai has made few changes to the Accent WRC2s beyond the minor engine modifications that were introduced on the last round in Finland. The only notable difference is a new front suspension upright that gives a larger range of set-up options and anti-roll bar settings.
Sporting: Regular Accent driver Alister McRae is joined in the team by Italian asphalt expert Piero Liatti. The former Monte Carlo winner replaces Kenneth Eriksson for Sanremo and the following asphalt rally, Corsica, before the Swede returns for Australia and Great Britain.
Quotes: Piero Liatti said: "If it rains all day, every day, it'll be alright with me! The stages here are nice but under the trees, it's very slippery when you drive over the leaves. It's hard to say what result we can aim for."
Technical: The three Xsara WRCs will run in essentially the same specification that Philippe Bugalski used to win the non-championship Rally Deutschland in July. However, the cars of both Jesus Puras and Sebastien Loeb will use water-cooled brakes to compensate for the drivers' use of left-foot braking.
Sporting: Citroen is not eligible for manufacturers' points following an agreement with the FIA and fellow manufacturers earlier this season. For its third world championship outing of the year, the French manufacturer has entered regular Xsara WRC pilots Philippe Bugalski and Jesus Puras, and runaway FIA Super 1600 Cup leader Sebastien Loeb. Loeb has been granted dispensation to move up from the 1600cc category for this event only (he'll return to his regular Saxo for Corsica).
Quotes: Philippe Bugalski said: "The roads weren't completely dry during the recce so it's going to be difficult. The grip level will change from corner to corner, depending on whether it's under trees or on leaves or not. But of course I'm confident. We showed in Catalunya that the car is competitive on asphalt and that we are competitive on asphalt too."
Sanremo is the fourth round of the inaugural FIA Super 1600 Cup, a cost-controlled series designed to introduce new, young talent into the world championship. Current series leader Sebastien Loeb has already reaped the benefits of winning all three opening rounds, as the Frenchman has been granted permission to step up from his regular Citroen Saxo to a Xsara WRC for this event only. With the dominant force absent, a fresh winner in the category is guaranteed and competition is likely to be extremely close between drivers like Andrea Dallavilla (Fiat), Francois Duval (Ford), Patrick Magaud (Ford) and Niall McShea (Citroen).
The event is also a round of the FIA Teams Cup, where Toyota drivers Henrik Lundgaard and Pasi Hagstrom will each be aiming to make the series lead their own. And the situation is even more finely balanced in the Group N category for more standard cars - Argentine driver Gabriel Pozzo can clinch the world title here in Italy.