Peugeot ready for the Monte Carlo challenge. In what proved to be a memorable 2002 season for Peugeot, the French team notched up its third consecutive Manufacturers' title while Marcus GronhÃ¶lm took the second Drivers' crown of his career ...
Peugeot ready for the Monte Carlo challenge.
In what proved to be a memorable 2002 season for Peugeot, the French team notched up its third consecutive Manufacturers' title while Marcus Gronhölm took the second Drivers' crown of his career following his success in 2000. Peugeot Sport is now looking to get the 2003 championship off to a flying start. The competition during the early part of the coming season is expected to be extremely fierce, and that includes its traditional curtain raiser, the celebrated and challenging Monte Carlo Rally. The three 206 WRCs officially entered for this event will be driven by Richard Burns, Marcus Grönholm and Gilles Panizzi.
In its bid to claim a fourth consecutive world title, Peugeot will be looking to capitalise on a policy of stability, both on the technical front and as far as the members who make up its team are concerned. Unlike 2000 and 2001, no new Evolution version of the Peugeot 206 WRC will be introduced in the course of the season, although the French machine will continue to be developed throughout the year. The combination of its potential on sprint events and its reliability record took the car to nine WRC one-two finishes last year, a new outright record.
Stability is also the key word when it comes to the team's driver line-up. As in 2002, Richard Burns and Marcus Grönholm will take part in the complete championship, while Gilles Panizzi will form part of the factory effort for all five of the season's asphalt rounds. The Frenchman will also participate in four European-based gravel rounds with a latest-generation 206 WRC run by the Bozian operation. Last but by no means least, Harri Rovanperä will take part in the nine gravel rounds of the championship.
With six teams battling for championship honours in 2003, including Citroën who will be taking part in a full programme for the first time, the level of this year's title chase promises to be particularly high, beginning with the opening round which is poised to be a hotly disputed affair. The Monte Carlo Rally is one of the sport's most celebrated showpieces and is reputed for its extremely changing stage conditions that can switch from dry or wet asphalt to ice or snow. Ironically, despite its enviable record on the championship's other asphalt rounds, the 206 WRC has yet to triumph in the French Alps, its best result to date being a fifth place in 2002.
So, what are the chances of the reigning World Champions turning that situation around at its fourth attempt? Once again, Gilles Panizzi stands out as one of the big favourites. The Menton-raised driver has frequently gone well on this event, notably in 1999 when he topped the leaderboard in a privately entered car before retiring. Until now, however, victory has eluded him, just as it has his teammates. Indeed, the winner of last year's Catalonia, Corsica and Sanremo Rallies was sidelined by an early mechanical incident on the 2002 Monte.
Marcus Grönholm has less experience of the Monte Carlo. His first attempt dates back to as recently as 2000 driving a Peugeot. He has only finished once previously and that was last year when he completed the distance in fifth position. Later in 2002, he came second in Corsica and came close to victory in Germany where he ended up bagging third place, two results that underline his spectacular progress on asphalt, a surface that didn't initially figure amongst the Finn's favourite hunting grounds.
Last year's Monte Carlo marked the debut of Richard Burns with Peugeot, the British driver ultimately finishing in eighth place. He went on to claim second place in Spain and Germany, and secured a silver medal place in Corsica, to demonstrate that, like Marcus Grönholm, he has the potential to win on asphalt as well as being fast on gravel.