Peugeot on course for one-two in Italy Peugeot 206 WRCs fill the top two places on the 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Sanremo Rally, which continued in northern Italy today. Frenchman Gilles Panizzi has consolidated his ...
Peugeot on course for one-two in Italy
Peugeot 206 WRCs fill the top two places on the 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Sanremo Rally, which continued in northern Italy today. Frenchman Gilles Panizzi has consolidated his first-leg advantage during today's six special stages, held in the mountains behind Sanremo and Imperia. And with his fellow countryman Philippe Bugalski crashing out, Panizzi's team-mates Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns now hold second and fourth places, setting up yet another maximum points haul in the manufacturers' series.
Panizzi started this morning's stages expecting a challenge from Bugalski, but the 2002 Catalunya Rally winner did enough to fend off his rival in the opening test. Then in the second stage of the morning, Bugalski crashed out, temporarily blocking the road and potentially costing Panizzi vital time to his charging team-mates. However, event stewards chose to assign the fastest time of Grönholm to Panizzi, so he ended up losing nothing in the incident. The final pair of stages called for a gamble on tyres and Gilles opted for too soft a compound and too many cuts, but he picked his way over the 42km Coll de Langan test to keep his lead at more than 20 seconds entering the final day.
Gilles said: "It's been another good day. I still have a fantastic feeling with the car and my injured shoulder hasn't been such a big problem at all. This morning it felt a little stiff on the opening stage but once it loosened up, it was okay. I've been concentrating hard on keeping a neat line and not moving the car around too much because I know it would be more difficult for me if I was sliding all the time. The last stage was really difficult - I was even left-foot braking just to keep the car on the line and I never left-foot brake on asphalt. I was sure I would lose the lead, so to come out of the last stage and find I still have 20 seconds over Marcus makes me very happy."
Grönholm has been the man on a charge today, and his efforts have kept Panizzi under pressure and eased him clear of Burns. Bugalski's retirement meant that the world championship leader inherited second overall, but he believes that catching his team-mate and challenging for victory will be a tall order in the remaining stages.
Marcus said: "Today has been a much better day for me than yesterday, purely because we haven't had a single problem with the car. It's quite frustrating, in a way, because we could have been closer to Gilles and possibly in a better position to really put him under pressure. As it is, even when we take a second or two in one stage he seems able to take that back. Sometimes it's hard to understand exactly where he makes up the time. I think for tomorrow, the clever thing will be to settle for second overall and some good points."
Burns lost valuable time this morning as he and his Peugeot engineers tried to track down a mysterious lack of pace that had hampered him since yesterday afternoon. Enough progress was made (mainly by adjusting the car's turbocharger boost settings) for Richard to fight with Petter Solberg for third position after Bugalski's retirement, but a poor tyre choice for the day's final two stages cost the Englishman too much time and he dropped to fourth overnight, 21 seconds behind the Norwegian.
Richard said: "I started to think that it was strange that we were right on the pace for the first five stages yesterday, and then suddenly the times weren't there. I've been talking to the engineers at every service to go through all the possibilities and when I changed the boost settings - in basic terms, how the power is delivered and how the response works - and it was better straightaway in terms of feeling and time. Unfortunately though, we went for too soft a compound of tyre and too many cuts in the last stage, and it didn't work. If Petter doesn't have any problems it'll be hard to catch him tomorrow but we'll see what happens in the morning."
Several other Peugeot 206 WRCs continue to hold top 15 placings, meanwhile. The customer-specification 206 of Cedric Robert - who is making his first world championship start in a World Rally Car - holds an incredible seventh overall, while Harri Rovanperä and Bruno Thiry occupy ninth and 13th respectively, despite the latter driver losing a lot of time when he chose intermediate tyres for those tricky last two stages.
Tomorrow's final leg comprises just four stages (two, both repeated) and only 88 competitive kilometres. But as it proved on last year's event and this afternoon, the fickle climate in the hills above Sanremo can change the complexion of the leaderboard at a moment's notice, so there will be both relief and delight on the faces of the eventual victors when they spray the champagne.