Catalunya Rally Sunday March 24th 2002 Panizzi, Peugeot and Michelin: the winning combination on asphalt -- again! Gilles Panizzi walked away with his second victory of the year this weekend thanks to a masterful display in the mountains of ...
Sunday March 24th 2002
Panizzi, Peugeot and Michelin: the winning combination on asphalt -- again!
Gilles Panizzi walked away with his second victory of the year this weekend thanks to a masterful display in the mountains of Catalunya. After carving out a commanding advantage on the first two legs of the Spanish round, the Peugeot-Michelin driver was able to control from in front on Sunday to take the laurels with a 37.3s lead over his closest chaser, teammate Richard Burns. A further maximum points haul for the 206 WRC has launched the French manufacturer into a 27 points lead in the provisional World Championship standings, while the team's trio of Marcus Gronholm (4th), Panizzi and Burns dominates the Drivers' table. The Citroën-Michelin of Philippe Bugalski (3rd) completes yet another all-Michelin podium in Spain, the French tyres securing their twelfth consecutive success on clear asphalt since 1998.
From the instant Gilles Panizzi recorded fastest time on the opening stage of the 2002 Catalunya Rally, there was never really any doubt that the Frenchman was going to take over where he left off after his victorious run two weeks ago in Corsica. After monopolising the top of the stage timesheets on Leg 1, the Peugeot-Michelin star consolidated his command with three further top times the following day before easing up on the final leg to cruise to the fifth WRC win of his career -- all on asphalt.
And that, really, sums up the story at the sharp end of this weekend's competition in Spain. For in addition to the Frenchman's assertive performance, the 206 WRC ran with clockwork reliability throughout the three days while Michelin tyres proved once again to be a perfect match for the event's hot and notoriously abrasive roads.
"I have to say that my Michelin tyres were perfect this weekend," confirmed Panizzi between congratulatory handshakes and pats on the back at final service. "This has been an easier rally than Corsica as far as tyre choice is concerned because the weather has been the same all the time, but even then the hot conditions meant you had to choose the right compound for a group of stages and I think we did that. I don't think I've really had to worry about tyre wear on any of the stages. I've had a perfect feeling with the car and its balance since Friday morning and that consistency helped me to attack and build up an advantage."
Pushing home the point following his team's 1-2-3 triumph on home ground earlier in the month, Richard Burns gave Peugeot-Michelin its seventh consecutive maximum points score on asphalt, its third from four rounds this season. His solid display saw him run in second place from flag to flag. Conscious that he had little chance of matching Panizzi's pace on this type of surface, the reigning World Champion slipped into his teammate's wake from SS1 and thereafter concentrated on defending second place despite pressure from Citroën-Michelin's Philippe Bugalski (3rd). As much as anything else, the Briton's confident run was an eloquent demonstration of the speed with which he has adapted to the 206 WRC after his close-season transfer from Subaru.
In championship terms, today's result puts Peugeot-Michelin an incredible 27 points clear at the top of the Manufacturers' classification. Meanwhile, Marcus Gronholm (4th), the only driver to have scored on each event so far this year, leads a Peugeot-Michelin top three in the Drivers' standings, the first time three representatives from the same make have monopolised the points table in a long, long time.
The best placed non-206 WRC finisher today in Lloret de Mar was Citroën-Michelin's Philippe Bugalski. He went one better than in Corsica -- where he finished 4th in a privately-run Xsara -- to prevent a re-make of the all-Peugeot podium seen on the Mediterranean island. After a hesitant start on Friday, the 1999 Catalunya winner was increasingly happy with the balance of his car after a number of fine-tuning set-up adjustments and remained a constant threat to Burns. At the end of Leg 2, he succeeded in closing to within 17 seconds of the Briton but finally decided to settle for the third step of the podium after failing to make any further inroads on the Sunday morning.
Not so fortunate was his teammate Sebastien Loeb who retired from an almost certain 4th place on the final day following wishbone damage incurred in a heavy roll on SS14. Despite the hot conditions, the retirement list in fact proved surprisingly short, the other top names to leave the event prematurely being Tommi Makinen (Subaru), who was stopped with accident-incurred engine damage first thing Saturday morning, and Carlos Sainz (Ford), whose record 155th WRC outing was curtailed when he crashed off later the same day.
As in Corsica, the best placed non-Michelin driver at the finish was Subaru's Petter Solberg (5th) who completed the distance more than 2 minutes adrift of Panizzi, while Ford's Colin McRae picked up a championship point despite running with a badly injured left little finger sustained in his accident on the French island two weeks ago.
Finally, Group N was won by the Mitsubishi-Michelin of Belgium's Pieter Tsjoen who romped home to win the showroom category by nearly 12 minutes (!), while top spot in the second round of the 2002 Junior World Championship went to the Citroën-Michelin of Spaniard Daniel Sola.
Michelin's rally --
Michelin monopolises top four again on asphalt
- Twelve From Twelve -- Today's incisive result extends Michelin's successful run on clear asphalt to twelve consecutive victories (Sanremo '98, '99, '00, '01 ; Catalunya '99, '00, '01, '02 ; Corsica '99, '00, '01, '02) with four different manufacturer-partners (Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Citroën and Ford). The sophisticated Michelin FP dry weather tyre won first time out on the 1998 Sanremo Rally and its successive evolutions remain unbeaten on this type of surface.
- Group By Group -- Only two of the weekend's fifteen special stages were not won by a Michelin partner. More significantly, Michelin runners were fastest over seven of the eight "groups" of stages thanks to the consistent performance of its products over the full length of groups of up to 56km in length (SS10/11/12). The only group not won by Michelin's partners was the final group when there was very little left to fight for.
- Common Denominator -- It is clearly important not to confuse the asphalt of Corsica with that of Catalunya, which itself can be split between the notoriously abrasive stages of the south and those in the north. On top of that, while Corsica was marked by cool, frequently damp conditions, this weekend's event has been run in consistently hot sunshine, with ground temperatures peaking at 38C. In this mix of conditions, the common denominator between the two rallies has been the dominant performance of Michelin's products.
- Michelin'S March -- Michelin's performance in Catalunya this weekend is just the latest in a fantastic run of results for the firm in world class motorsport this month. In addition to its 1-2-3-4 finishes in World Championship rallying in Corsica and Spain, Michelin tyres finished 1st and 2nd with BMW WilliamsF1 Team in last weekend's Malaysian F1 Grand Prix and scored an identical result with Audi in the Sebring 12 Hours race. Meanwhile, on two wheels, Ducati-Michelin's Troy Bayliss took Michelin's score in the 2002 Superbike World Championship to four wins from four races with a double victory in Australia this week-end!
<pre> 2002 World Rally Championship
Provisional standings after 4 rounds:
DRIVERS Marcus Gronholm (FIN) M 21 Gilles Panizzi (F) M 20 Richard Burns (GB) M 13 Tommi Makinen (FIN) 10 Carlos Sainz (E) 9 Philippe Bugalski (F) M 7 Sebastien Loeb (F) M 6 Harri Rovanpera (FIN) M 6 Colin McRae (GB) 5 Petter Solberg (N) 5 Alister McRae (GB) M 2
M Michelin partner
MANUFACTURERS Peugeot-Michelin M 52 Ford 25 Subaru 20 Mitsubishi-Michelin M 6 Hyundai-Michelin M 1
M Michelin partner
Next round: Cyprus, April 19th-21st 2002