The world's top rally stars will make their final outing of the year on asphalt roads this weekend, when the FIA World Rally Championship reaches its 11th round, the Sanremo Rally in northern Italy. Once a mixed-surface classic that took crews...
The world's top rally stars will make their final outing of the year on asphalt roads this weekend, when the FIA World Rally Championship reaches its 11th round, the Sanremo Rally in northern Italy. Once a mixed-surface classic that took crews into gravel roads in Tuscany, the event now features an extremely compact layout that comprises just four stretches of road, repeated and reversed, and a single service area in Imperia. Current championship leader Marcus Grönholm and reigning title-holder Richard Burns will start as two of the favourites for the event but most eyes will be on their Peugeot team-mate, Gilles Panizzi. The Frenchman is returning to competition for the first time since a fall at his home damaged ligaments in his shoulder in August, and question marks over his fitness remain as he tries to secure a hat-trick of Sanremo victories. Peugeots aside, likely challengers must include two privately-run Citroen Xsaras for last year's Tour de Corse winner Jesus Puras and Philippe Bugalski, and the Fords and Subarus of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz, and Petter Solberg and Tommi Mäkinen.
Peugeot (1st - 115 points)
Technical: Peugeot has introduced no major technical changes on the 206
WRC for this event, although the team has made a small improvement to the engine, designed to increase torque slightly. All three of the works cars, driven by Marcus Grönholm, Richard Burns and Gilles Panizzi, will use hydraulically-controlled anti-roll bars as this device is now part of the standard 206 WRC asphalt specification. Grönholm has a new seat, designed specifically for his frame.
Sporting: Peugeot has entered three 206 WRCs for this event, to be driven by Marcus Grönholm, Richard Burns and Gilles Panizzi. As the team's asphalt expert, Panizzi will be aiming for his third Sanremo Rally win in succession but he is still recovering from shoulder and ligament damage sustained in a fall at his home in August.
Quotes: Marcus Grönholm said: ^ÓI didn't do any specific test for here but I feel comfortable enough with the car anyway. I like the roads here but the hardest thing is often the conditions, because it's hard to predict from Imperia what we will have in the mountains. I'd rather the conditions were dry or wet, but not a mixture between the two. This morning at the shakedown we were working with my driving position, because I have a new seat that's a better one for me and we had to get it set up correctly with the pedals.^Ô
Gilles Panizzi said: ^ÓI have quite good movement with my shoulder but it does get tired after a few kilometres, so the hardest thing for me will be doing good times on the longer stages. If I can do that, then there is a chance to win, but we'll soon know if it's going to be too difficult for me to fight with the likes of Marcus and Richard.^Ô
Ford (2nd - 81 points)
Technical: Ford's Focus RS WRC02s are largely unchanged for this event. The team has entered three cars for Colin McRae, Markko Martin and Carlos Sainz. McRae's Focus will be the same machine that caught fire so dramatically when he drove it in Finland last month. Sporting: Ford sends its three regular drivers - Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin - to this event, and all are nominated for manufacturers' points.
Quotes: Carlos Sainz said: ^ÓIf the weather here is as unpredictable as usual it will be virtually impossible to predict what will happen. The roads here are very narrow in places and if it gets wet, there are sometimes leaves on the road to make it even more slippery. It'll be a tough rally for Ford.^Ô
Colin McRae said: ^ÓI think the situation here could be fairly similar to what we saw in Germany. We've made some small improvements in the car but we haven't made it a whole lot quicker since then. This is a different type of rally, of course - a different character than Germany - but we won't really know how things are going until tomorrow morning. A lot could depend on tyres or on conditions.^Ô
Subaru (3rd - 42 points)
Technical: Subaru's Impreza WRC2002s will run in practically the same specification as the one used in Germany last month, although the team has introduced slightly revised braking ducts on the cars. Sporting: Subaru has entered three works cars for this rally. Regulars Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg will again be joined by Austrian Achim Mortl, who made his debut in the factory team in Germany last month. He will be nominated for manufacturers points alongside the Finn and the Norwegian.
Quotes: Petter Solberg said: ^ÓThe test for here went quite well, but a lot will depend on conditions and tyre choices. For us, I think it would suit better if it rained a bit because the chance of making gains with good tyre choices would be better then. The car itself feels pretty good, though - I think we found a good set-up for suspension and differentials in the test.^Ô
Tommi Mäkinen said: ^ÓI'd like to think we stand a chance of me winning here again but we won't know if that is possible until we have a good run, look at our times and then look at the times of everyone else, particularly the Peugeots. I had quite a good feeling after the test but you can't be sure.^Ô
Skoda (4th - 8 points)
Technical: Skoda's Octavias will feature a slightly different specification of differential from the one used in Germany last month, after a small improvement was found during a short test session. That aside, the three Octavia WRCs will run in essentially the same trim. Sporting: Skoda has entered three Octavia WRC E3s in Italy, to be driven by Kenneth Eriksson, Toni Gardemeister and young Czech driver Roman Kresta.
Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: ^ÓWe found a small amount of time in the test, although it was a short test and we did have a few problems. Looking back at previous years here, I always seem to end up fighting for 15th or 20th place so I'm hoping to improve on that this year. It won't be easy, though - the Octavia is a big car and some of the stages are quite narrow, so we'll have to fight hard if we're to get into the position where we can even fight for points.^Ô
Mitsubishi (5th - 8 points)
Technical: Mitsubishi Ralliart has worked hard to reduce the weight of its 'Step Two' Lancer Evo WRCs for this rally, and more than 30kg has been trimmed off the cars. That aside, the team has also made gains in differential settings during a lengthy test.
Sporting: Mitsubishi is sending two Lancer Evo WRC2s to this event for its regular drivers, Francois Delecour and Alister McRae.
Quotes: Francois Delecour said: ^ÓI think this is going to be a very hard event for us, because we know from the times in Germany that the Lancer is more at home on wider roads and the Sanremo stages can be very narrow. All we can do is try to have a clean run and get the tyre choices right if the weather becomes unpredictable. If it does, then anything is possible here.^Ô
Alister McRae said: ^ÓI'm still lacking in competition mileage with the WRC2 on asphalt, because we had a problem on the first day of Germany and had to retire. This is where you can really learn about the car, though - testing is well and good, but the really good knowledge comes from the rallies themselves. But this is a rally that I enjoy - we won the Formula Two category here as long ago as 1994 - so I'm looking forward to it.^Ô
Hyundai (6th - 6 points)
Technical: Hyundai found improvements in the Accent WRC3 engine during recent testing, boosting the car's torque to allow the drivers to stay in higher gears through some corners. The team also worked hard with dampers and suspension settings. This could also mark the first appearance for the Accent with a computer-controlled 'active' rear differential. Both drivers have evaluated the unit in testing and at this morning's shakedown, but a final decision has yet to be taken on whether it will be used in competition.
Sporting: Hyundai sends two Accent WRC3s to Sanremo, to be driven by Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz. The latter driver has made a rapid recovery from the rib injuries he sustained in his Rallye Deutschland accident, surprising even the Hyundai team doctor with his rate of progress. Loix lost time at this morning's shakedown, meanwhile, when he suffered an underbonnet fire on his Accent, caused when the turbocharger exploded. Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: ^ÓThe hardest thing for me here isn't going to be the movement - I've pretty much got the full range back now, thanks to work with my physio. But the body uses all its energy for the healing process and that means that I get tired very quickly. During the test it was tough and then on Monday during the recce, it was very hard indeed. Keeping up my energy levels for concentration is going to be the biggest thing, I think.^Ô
Freddy Loix said: ^ÓOur test was very encouraging. The car had a very good feeling in the test, an improvement since Germany in terms of the engine and the suspension. I'm just hoping for a clean run so we can actually see where we are in relation to everyone else.^Ô
Citroen's factory team has now concluded its seven-event programme for 2002, but two of its current-specification cars will be contesting the Sanremo Rally in the hands of Spanish champion Jesus Puras and Citroen works driver Philippe Bugalski. Run by private team Piedrafita, the two Xsara WRCs are regarded by many as outside bets for overall victory. Other non-works World Rally Cars likely to challenge strongly include Bruno Thiry and Cedric Robert, both of whom will use Peugeot 206 WRCs. Sanremo is the penultimate round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, where Spanish driver Daniel Sola will be aiming to consolidate his lead over rivals Francois Duval and Andrea Dallavilla.