Sebastien Loeb won the 11th round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship in Sanremo this afternoon. The Frenchman enjoyed an untroubled run through the final leg of the event to move his Citroen Xsara WRC to within two points of championship...
Sebastien Loeb won the 11th round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship in Sanremo this afternoon. The Frenchman enjoyed an untroubled run through the final leg of the event to move his Citroen Xsara WRC to within two points of championship leader Richard Burns, who finished seventh. The weather played a big part today's action, with the final leg starting with further dry conditions, but as the crews returned to that loop after lunch it started to rain heavily. Peugeot won and lost in the downpour with third-placed man Marcus Gronholm crashing his 206 WRC out of the rally on the final stage. His team-mate Gilles Panizzi was the only driver of the leading bunch to go out on intermediate tyres. The triple Sanremo winner rocketed up the leaderboard leapfrogging his way from fifth to second, taking close to two minutes out of Loeb in the process. Ford's Markko Martin finished third, having run in second place for most of the last two days.
Loeb's success means that Citroen now leads the manufacturers' standings by four points from Peugeot, with Subaru 49 points adrift in third place.
Technical: The Citroen Xsara WRCs of Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz were reliable through the final day. Colin McRae's car suffered a hydraulic problem towards the end of the final test.
Sporting: Loeb remained calm through the final two stages to maintain his statues as leader. Running on racing tyres, there was little the Frenchman could do to stave off the onset of his countryman Gilles Panizzi, but he kept his Xsara in the middle of the road to take his third win of the season. Carlos Sainz retained his fourth place, despite Panizzi passing him, courtesy of Marcus Gronholm's retirement. The Spaniard admitted he wasn't feeling too well today, a result of the kidney stones problems which he'd suffered earlier in the week. Colin McRae also moved up one position today, but otherwise the Scot reported no problems on any of the day's four stages.
Sebastien Loeb said: "I was very worried when the rain was coming. I knew that Markko was only 40 seconds behind and I knew that it was also going to be exceptionally difficult to drive the stages on the slick tyres we were using. It was hard work with so much water around, but we made it to the finish and to the win, which is a great result for us and for the team."
Carlos Sainz said: "It looked okay to keep Gilles behind this morning, the gap was quite big - but then the rain came and we were on the wrong tyres. There was nothing we could do to stop him from passing us. We had some moments on those stages, the roads were very slippery in places."
Colin McRae said: "The conditions were incredible, probably the worst I have ever driven in. It wasn't raining all of the time, but when it was, it was just a case of keeping the car on the road. This hasn't been a great rally, now we look ahead to Corsica and Catalunya to set what we can do there."
Marlboro Peugeot Total
Technical: All three Peugeot 206 WRCs ran without any problems through the final day, but Marcus Gronholm crashed out of the rally on the final stage.
Sporting: The rain might have cost the team third place, with Gronholm's crash, but at the same time it earned them second place for Gilles Panizzi who made the right tyre choice. The Finn went off the road in heavy rain at the start of stage 14. He continued down the road, but the damage to the car was too bad for him to continue. Panizzi's rise through the leaderboard took him from fifth to fourth on the penultimate test. On the 21-kilometre over Colle d'Oggia, however, he was 1m 16.7s faster than anybody, which was enough for him to pass Martin and move into second place. Richard Burns had dropped back to tenth place on the penultimate stage, but second fastest time through the last stage elevated him into seventh, where he clinched two championship points.
Gilles Panizzi said: "Those stages were amazing, so much water in the last one. Of course they were very difficult to drive and we did have quite a few moments in there. I am happy for the team and I am sad for the team. Happy because I have made the points to help Peugeot in the championship, but at the same time it was a pity for Marcus, he drove a very good rally until the last stage."
Richard Burns said: "I feel like we have stolen these points. The car felt good for me this morning, better on the second of the two stages, but then on that last stage of the rally I don't know what happened. It could be that we got the best of the weather, maybe it rained more for those around us. To end this event with some points is great for me. It's also good that I'm going to Corsica in a better frame of mind than I might have done."
Ford Motor Company
Technical: The two Ford Focus RS WRC03s of Markko Martin and Francois Duval ran without any problems today. Mikko Hirvonen retired his 2002 version on the opening day.
Sporting: Martin maintained his second place through the opening loop of stages, admitting he was pushing harder on the second stage of the loop. The Estonian lost his runners-up spot on the rally's final test, running on dry-weather tyres, Martin was powerless to stop Panizzi coming past him. Duval was another driver to benefit from Gronholm's retirement, moving into fifth place after a trouble-free final day. The Belgian was happy with his result, having predicted that he would finish in fifth place before the rally started.
Markko Martin said: "We were lucky to stay on the road in those conditions. Marcus went off, but I think it could have been anybody. It was so difficult to drive. This is a shame to end the rally this way. Okay we have had the odd problem, but we had been in second place for so long. Having said that, I am happy with third position, having shown what the Ford Focus is capable of on asphalt roads."
Francois Duval said: "I worked quite hard on getting my pace notes right just before the start of this rally and it's gone very well. This has been a good event for me, especially when you consider that this is my first attempt at it in a World Rally Car. The last couple of stages were incredible. We bent the steering after cutting a corner about five kilometres into the stage. At that point I decided it wasn't worth risking things, so we backed off a little."
555 Subaru World Rally Team
Technical: Tommi Makinen's Subaru Impreza WRC2003 ran without mechanical trouble throughout the final leg of the event, while Petter Solberg retired the sister car after the final stage on Friday.
Sporting: Makinen started the day in 11th place, but moved into the top ten when Gronholm retired on the last stage. The four-times world champion's run through the final leg was without incident, the Finn using the time to test different tyres with an eye to the next two asphalt rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Tommi Makinen said: "This morning was okay, no problems - but the last two stages were very different. There was so much water it was very treacherous. Stage 13 was completely white with hail stones. Okay we have made the top ten at the end of the rally, but we prefer to be at the top of the top ten rather than the bottom. We found it hard to get the right set-up here and that's something we've got to work towards for the next rallies in Corsica and Catalunya."
David Lapworth said: "It's going to be hard work to find an answer to the pace that Markko (Martin) and Sebastien (Loeb) have been running at this weekend, but I think a podium position is attainable on the next two asphalt rallies. A lot will depend on the weather conditions."
Technical: Didier Auriol's Skoda Fabia WRC ran without mechanical problems through the final leg of the rally. Toni Gardemeister retired from the rally when he rolled off the road on the second stage.
Sporting: Auriol had made some changes to the suspension set-up of his Skoda last night and felt it was a retrograde step after the first loop of stages this morning. The team changed the Fabia back to how it had been prior to stages 11 and 12 - only for the rain to come and the Frenchman to run on the wrong tyres. He finished the event in 12th place.
Didier Auriol said: "This morning the car was too bad, it wasn't right at all. We had made the car too hard for the stages, which cost us some time. Also we had quite a bad vibration from in those first two stages this morning. Another problem we had came when I stalled the car on the start-line of stage 12. This afternoon, the rain was incredible - really not good at all to drive in."
Mirco Baldacci maintained his grip on the lead of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship field until the end of the event. The Fiat driver didn't put a foot wrong through the final loop to beat second-placed man Salvador Canellas (Suzuki Ignis) by more than five minutes. Kris Meeke had held the runners-up spot since yesterday, but he crashed his Opel Corsa off the road on the first stage this morning. Dimitar Iliev was third in his Peugeot. Series leader Brice Tirabassi retired his Renault Clio with electrical trouble earlier in the rally and now holds just a three-point lead from Canellas with two rounds to run. Daniel Carlsson - who also retired - and Britain's Guy Wilks are joint third.
Of the non-official drivers, Cedric Robert was ninth in his private Peugeot with Roman Kresta taking a similar car to 11th, both ahead of Auriol's works Skoda.
NEXT EVENT: October 15-19: Rallye de France-Tour de Corse, Website: www.rallyedefrance.com