Peugeot gunning for an Italian hat trick. After recording its sixth one-two points finish of the season in the recent Deutschland Rally, Peugeot continues to top both the Manufacturers' and Drivers' World Championship tables going into ...
Peugeot gunning for an Italian hat trick.
After recording its sixth one-two points finish of the season in the recent Deutschland Rally, Peugeot continues to top both the Manufacturers' and Drivers' World Championship tables going into the eleventh of the 2002 calendar's fourteen rounds, the Sanremo Rally. The French team has won the last two visits to the all-asphalt event in 2000 and 2001, and Gilles Panizzi, the man behind its most recent successes on the Riviera, will be back to lead its bid to make it a hat trick this time round.
Should it succeed, it would clearly give a tremendous boost to the firm's chances of securing its third consecutive Manufacturers' title. Panizzi himself spent the weeks leading up to the Sanremo Rally completing an intensive re-education programme to ensure he will be on top form following his injury in August (see attached interview). After their excellent performance in Germany last month with the 206 WRC, Richard Burns and Marcus Grönholm will join Panizzi in the Peugeot squad for Italy.
With four rounds of the 2002 World Championship remaining, the series has taken an extremely positive turn for Peugeot Sport. From the ten rallies organised to date, the French team has secured no fewer than six championship one-twos (Sweden, Corsica, Spain, Cyprus, Finland and Germany) and has systematically finished in the points, with the exception of Argentina where its two cars were disqualified after the chequered flag. Its most recent maximum haul came in Germany where Richard Burns and Marcus Grönholm had the satisfaction of completing the distance in second and third positions behind Sébastien Loeb, whose car was not eligible for championship points. The Anglo-Finnish pair collected a maximum score despite the absence of their team-mate, asphalt ace Gilles Panizzi.
This performance has seen Peugeot strengthen its hold at the top of the provisional Manufacturers' standings with a capital of 115 points compared with a score of 81 points for its closest chaser, Ford. "The situation looks quite favourable," says Jean-Pierre Nicolas, the man in charge of Peugeot Sport's rallying activities. "Ford will effectively need to finish regularly in the big points if they are to bridge the gap and that puts the pressure very much on them rather than us. Even so, it goes without saying that we will be out for the highest score possible in Sanremo..."
Peugeot Sport enjoys an enviable record on the Italian round, including consecutive WRC one-twos in 2000 and 2001. The French team's maximum points haul last October contributed significantly to its end-of-year comeback that saw it go on to win the 2001 Manufacturers' World Championship.
Meanwhile, in the Drivers' series, Marcus Grönholm continues to fly Peugeot's colours high and proud. Since the beginning of the season, the Finn has accumulated 51 points, while second-placed Colin McRae and third-placed Richard Burns have notched up 33 and 31 points respectively. Thanks to his wins in Corsica and Spain and his sixth place in Kenya, Gilles Panizzi figures in an excellent fifth place while eighth place for Harri Rovanperä makes it four Peugeot drivers inside the provisional top-ten. Although Marcus Grönholm's enjoys a sizeable cushion at the top of the table, his lead is by no means unassailable and, with ten points up for grabs for the winner of each round, the situation remains very open with four events still to go.
As winner of the last two Sanremo Rallies, Gilles Panizzi understandably has a soft spot for the Italian round which takes place in the mountains close to his home in the south of France. "Unfortunately, it's difficult to say exactly how I will feel physically when the rally starts, but I'm extremely fired up at the idea of competing again after being forced to sit out two rallies in succession," underlines the Frenchman who is as motivated as ever!
Marcus Grönholm has good knowledge of the Sanremo Rally following his three previous visits with the 206 WRC in 2001 (7th), 2000 (4th) and 1999 (8th) and the Finn is in a particularly buoyant mood following his recent strong showing in Germany.
Meanwhile, Richard Burns has failed to reach the finish of the Italian round in the past three years, either because of accidents (2001 and 2000) or as the result of mechanical trouble (1999). That said, prior to his retirement in 2000, the British driver was lying an excellent third overall behind the two Peugeot 206 WRCs, an eloquent pointer to his skill on this type of terrain. "This might not be my favourite rally but I will be looking to score a positive result with the championship in mind. For sure, Marcus has pulled out a big lead in the Drivers' points table, but I will carry on fighting as long as I have a reasonable chance of retaining my title."