Saturday 23rd March Peugeot driver Gilles Panizzi has maintained his grip on the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rallye Catalunya-Costa Brava, which continued in northern Spain today. The Frenchman posted fastest times on...
Saturday 23rd March
Peugeot driver Gilles Panizzi has maintained his grip on the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rallye Catalunya-Costa Brava, which continued in northern Spain today. The Frenchman posted fastest times on all but one of today's stages to build his lead up to more than 40 seconds. His team-mate Richard Burns is still his closest rival - the reigning world champion bolstered his second position today by inching further clear of third-placed Philippe Bugalski.
Fine weekend weather brought huge crowds of spectators to today's stages, causing logistical and safety problems for the organisers. The first and second stages of this morning's schedule had to be cancelled because of fans' cars parked in dangerous places beside the road. Officials managed to run the same tests later this afternoon, although a parked car contributed to a major accident involving Carlos Sainz.
Technical: The 206 WRCs of Gilles Panizzi and Richard Burns have been reliable today, but Marcus Grönholm continues to complain of badly fading brakes.
Sporting: Gilles Panizzi consolidated his overnight lead on today's shortened schedule, setting fastest times on all but one of the stages which ran to end the second day over 44 seconds ahead of his team-mate Richard Burns. Burns, in turn, posted third fastest time on the only test that ran this morning, extending his lead over Philippe Bugalski by a couple of seconds. The reigning world champion maintained that form thereafter and despite backing off too much on the gravel-coated final test, he finished the day in a comfortable second overall. Marcus Grönholm started the day in a relatively lonely fifth and the 2000 world champion has kept that position. He remains less than satisfied with his Peugeot's braking.
Quotes: Gilles Panizzi said: "It's looking good now, but we still have to complete tomorrow's stages. I've still been attacking and pushing on a lot of the corners today because that's the best way for me to drive. That way, I have less chance of relaxing too much and making a mistake. I feel sorry for the organisers that they have had too many spectators but they have to keep the safety - if there is a serious accident then it would be very bad for everyone."
Richard Burns said: "Second would be a fantastic result for me. It probably helped us a little when the stages were cancelled but equally, I might be able to take more time out of Philippe and as a driver, I want to be out there on the roads, competing. My time in the last stage was a little slow because there was a lot of gravel and I probably backed off a bit too much."
Marcus Grönholm said: "I don't know why I'm not quite as fast here as I was in Corsica. I don't have such a nice feeling with the car - it's like it keeps moving around a lot and I've lost confidence in the brakes."
Technical: The remaining Xsara WRCs of Philippe Bugalski and Sebastien Loeb have been reliable today.
Sporting: Philippe Bugalski started today's six stages with high hopes of reeling in second-placed Richard Burns but things didn't go to plan for the Frenchman. Firstly, he lost two of the first three stages because of spectator problems and then on the third, Burns fought back to add another two seconds to the gap between the pair.
Citroen's most improved driver today was Sebastien Loeb. The 27-year old was second quickest on the only stage that ran this morning, and he backed that up by matching or surpassing Bugalski's pace this afternoon to end the day still in fourth, but less than half a minute behind his third-placed team-mate. The third Xsara of Thomas Rådström retired last night when he slid off on a gravel-strewn corner in SS6 and broke his car's rear suspension.
Quotes: Philippe Bugalski said: "This morning didn't go quite so well for us, but we're still in touch with Richard. He's been quicker for much of today, though, so we have to find something."
Sebastien Loeb said: "I made some small changes to the car set-up and differentials last night and it has really improved the car. The handling is more how I like it now so I can attack a bit harder and I don't have any more problems with the tyres, like yesterday. It wasn't good for me that the two stages were cancelled this morning but I can't really hope to win this rally any more anyway. I'll just keep trying to set fast times and then we'll see what happens."
Technical: Tommi Mäkinen's Impreza WRC2002 finally succumbed this morning to the accident damage and overheating that it suffered after SS6 yesterday afternoon. The cylinder head gasket failed on the Finn's car on the road section to first service this morning and he failed to reach Manlleu as a result. Team-mate Petter Solberg has continued to complain of brake problems on his Impreza - the team has started to investigate the car's differentials as a possible cause for this persistent glitch.
Sporting: Petter Solberg has continued to be the quickest Pirelli runner in his Impreza. The young Norwegian broke Panizzi's clean sweep of fastest times as he inched closer to Marcus Grönholm, but he still ended the day around 18 seconds behind the 2000 world champion in sixth overall. Tommi Mäkinen's hopes of climbing back into the top ten ended with head gasket failure on the way to first service this morning.
Quotes: Tommi Mäkinen said: "The car started normally in Parc Ferme this morning and it was not smoking. But suddenly something broke and we could go no further. It's definitely something to do with our problems last night. We've gathered some useful information on this rally about our tarmac tyres but now we need to concentrate on the gravel."
Petter Solberg said: "It was great to get the fastest time - we were beginning to wonder if anyone apart from Gilles was going to get a go! The brake problem was finally fixed for the last group of stages we showed what we can do."
Technical: The Focus RS WRC02 Colin McRae has run without major problems today. Carlos Sainz suffered a repetition of the start line stall that affected him in Corsica in SS9. Markko Martin's car suffered fluctuating hydraulic pressure in the front and centre differentials on the first three stages today but with two of those being cancelled, the Estonian escaped serious time loss.
Sporting: Colin McRae's hopes of reaching the points positions now appear to rest on the crews in front hitting trouble, since the Scot has been unable to close in on any of the top six today. His team mate Carlos Sainz lost any chance of scoring a point when he slid off and crashed out in SS10, though. He and stand-in navigator Marc Marti escaped unhurt from the incident. Markko Martin was glad that this morning's opening two stages were cancelled, since it limited the time loss caused by differential problems. That stage aside, the young Estonian has continued to keep pace with Ford's more experienced drivers.
Quotes: Carlos Sainz said: "It was a fifth-gear corner with cars on the inside and outside of the bend. I corrected my line but there was a car with two wheels on the tarmac and two on the grass, so I forced a sixth-gear spin. I was very lucky to recover from that but I was going backwards and the car hit a really big stone, so we had to stop. It was stupid to risk running that stage. It would have been better to be safe. I want to thank Marc Marti for all his efforts on this event, though - up to the incident this stage was going 100 percent for us."
Colin McRae said: "My hand was a bit sore this morning but it's okay now. Seventh would get Ford some manufacturers' points but it doesn't look as though we're going to get into the drivers' points unless one of the guys in front falls out. The last three stages weren't great with spectators either, to be honest. Certainly you could have argued that SS10 shouldn't have run."
Technical: Toni Gardemeister's Octavia WRC has been reliable today. Kenneth Eriksson's car reported low oil pressure in SS9 this morning, but when the Swede arrived at Manlleu service there was plenty of oil in the engine. Skoda engineers changed the car's oil pump and that solved the problem. Eriksson and Gardemeister are the only remaining works Octavia crews, since Stig Blomqvist's car hit alternator troubles and retired on the road section back to Lloret de Mar yesterday evening.
Sporting: Toni Gardemeister has continued to keep his Octavia on the verge of the top ten today and once Tommi Mäkinen and Carlos Sainz retired, the young Finn moved into that top flight. He's embroiled in a close battle with Freddy Loix and François Delecour, however - the trio are covered by just 18 seconds. Kenneth Eriksson was concerned about his Octavia's engine when the oil pressure light came on in SS9 but the Swedish veteran recovered to end the day in 18th overall.
Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: "It's been going quite well. I'm pleased to still be ahead of the Hyundais and the Mitsubishis. The car has been working much better here in Spain since we made some changes to the differential settings. I have much better grip and balance now, and it shows. "
Technical: Freddy Loix's Accent WRC3 has been reliable today, but Armin Schwarz suffered a scare on the road section to service this morning when part of his car's right-front suspension broke, causing a massive vibration. The problem was fixed at first service, though, and didn't cause the German any time in the stages.
Sporting: Freddy Loix has been in improved form today, and the Belgian did enough to move ahead of François Delecour after the day's first stage. He consolidated that position in SS10 and SS11, then lost time to both Delecour and Toni Gardemeister in the last test. Armin Schwarz has struggled to find a suspension set-up he likes and the German holds 17th overnight.
Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: "The organisers were right to cancel the stages this morning. When we drove through SS7, it reminded me of how this rally looked when I first came here in 1991. There were so many people it was impossible to be safe."
Freddy Loix said: "It was a pretty good day for us up until the last stage. It felt pretty good, I made no real mistakes but the time just wasn't there. Tomorrow we have a pretty clear target - Toni in 10th is within our sights."
Technical: The Lancer Evo WRCs of François Delecour and Alister McRae have been generally reliable today.
Sporting: Neither Alister McRae or François Delecour expected night and day improvements to be made today, but the pair have continued to play with the Lancer Evo WRC's transmission and suspension settings as they continue to gain valuable data for the ongoing development of this car and its 'Step 2' successor. McRae was concerned at having to run first on the road through crowds of angry spectators on cancelled stages. He ended the day in 13th, having benefited from Tommi Mäkinen's and Carlos Sainz's retirements. Delecour was another to move up the order as a result of their misfortunes, and the Frenchman returned to Lloret this evening in 12th. Like Freddy Loix in front of him, he has been closing in on 10th-placed Toni Gardemeister.
Quotes: Alister McRae said: "We're still experimenting but we can only make really small changes here and while they make the car's characteristics different, they don't seem to make much difference to the stage times. I'm just giving the engineers as much feedback as possible so when it comes to the more fundamental things they understand what's needed."
Andrea Dallavilla has been under a local onslaught today in the Junior World Rally Championship category. The Italian's Citroen Saxo has been hounded by the similar machine of Spaniard Daniel Sola. Sola, who led the class briefly yesterday morning, finally reclaimed the JWRC lead this afternoon and he'll start tomorrow's closing stages 12.3 seconds clear of his rival. Another Italian, Giandomenico Basso, holds third, ahead of a fast-closing François Duval.