Rallye Sanremo: Round eleven preview

CHARACTER OF EVENT Classic European asphalt event, using stages which are sometimes run in each direction. Won for the last three years by the French driver Gilles Panizzi, whose family lived in this region of Italy. This is the first of a...


Classic European asphalt event, using stages which are sometimes run in each direction. Won for the last three years by the French driver Gilles Panizzi, whose family lived in this region of Italy. This is the first of a series of three world championship rallies to be run in the same month, all three on asphalt. The same Service Park will be used for the three days of the rally, and 63 cars have entered.


There are few major changes to the format of the event. The most important new feature will be the double run over the 52km stage (numbers 7 and 10, run on Saturday), the longest stage on the rally in the history of the event. The ceremonial start will take place on Thursday evening, this time at the same location for the Friday morning restart, on the seafront close to the headquarters (Hotel Royal) at the Piazza Carlo Dapporto (formerly known as Lungomare delle Nazioni).

Thursday, 2 October 2003

Richard Burns continues to lead the race for the drivers' championship, having extended his advantage to seven points on the last round of the series in Australia. The Peugeot driver has never won in Italy, however, and is still chasing his first victory in a 206 WRC. Behind Burns, Carlos Sainz and Petter Solberg are tied on points. Subaru-driving Solberg arrives in Sanremo on the back of success down under, while Sainz was forced to pay a visit to hospital earlier this week after suffering from kidney stones.

In recent years, Gilles Panizzi has been the man to beat on the stages north of the rally's host town of Sanremo. The Frenchman hasn't been beaten here since 1999, taking his hat-trick last season despite driving with a broken bone in his shoulder. Peugeot, however, hasn't won since Marcus Gronholm took ten points from Argentina in April.

This is the final year that Italy's round of the FIA World Rally Championship will be held in the Riviera resort. For next season, Rally of Italy switches to a gravel format and comes from the island of Sardinia.

Marlboro Peugeot Total (1st - 110 points)

Technical: The three 206 WRCs arrive in Italy with no significant changes to the specification.

Sporting: Gilles Panizzi is the only driver of the Peugeot trio to have won this event before, but the Frenchman is missing match practice, not having competed since Rally Deutschland. Gronholm ran his team-mate a close second on last year's Sanremo Rally, ending the event just 20 seconds behind him. The Finn is in need of a big points haul on this rally if he is to stand any chance of clinching his third world title at the end of the year. Richard Burns, however, is the leader of the pack and will be hoping to better his fourth place of last season - which remains his best result on the Italian asphalt.


Richard Burns said: "The weather is going to play a very important part in this rally. If you haven't got the right tyres on when you leave service then it's going to be very hard work. Another important factor is that there aren't that many stages - we've only got 14 chances to get it right." Marcus Gronholm said: "For me to win the championship is going to be hard work now. We need Richard to retire and I think I also need some help from the others. I still haven't won an asphalt round of the championship, but we went well here last year - maybe this is my best chance yet."

Gilles Panizzi said: "I think I can win this rally. Okay, there hasn't been so much work done on the car, but the Peugeot is still very, very fast and competitive."

Citroen Total (1st - 110 points)

Technical: The Citroen Xsara WRCs of Carlos Sainz, Sebastien Loeb and Colin McRae are running in similar specification to the last asphalt round of the championship, save for larger diameter rear discs for McRae and Sainz. All of the cars are ex-Monte Carlo, with Loeb using his winning Xsara.

Sporting: The three official cars are joined by a Piedrafita Sport-run Xsara for Philippe Bugalski, who is the only one of the four to have competed on this event last year in a Citroen. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, he crashed out on the second leg. Loeb's maiden run in a Xsara WRC was on this event two years ago, where he finished a close second to Gilles Panizzi. Loeb, who suffered from a bout of the flu earlier in the week, also finished a close second on the last round of the championship in Australia after a big battle with Petter Solberg. McRae is the only driver to have won this event, the Scotsman clinching back-to-back victories in 1996 and 1997. Sainz is another Citroen driver recovering from illness, his recce was affected by a kidney stones problem on Monday.


Carlos Sainz said: "This wasn't the best start to the rally for me. On Monday I was only able to recce two of the three stages, it was quite painful. Since then, though, I've had some medication and I feel much better now but I would have preferred to have been on the stages than in bed." Colin McRae said: "This isn't my favourite tarmac rally. I've nothing against it, it's just not great. I have won here before, though - a lot depends on the weather. I'm quite happy with the car, we didn't have too much work to do at shakedown, we just altered the anti-roll bar settings."

Sebastien Loeb said: "I came away from last year's rally with mixed feelings. I had gained valuable experience, but at the same time I didn't feel like I was on the pace. Even on the second run at the stages I didn't feel I was getting the best out of myself. I will do what I can to keep close to my team-mates this time around."

555 Subaru World Rally Team (3rd - 74 points)

Technical: Petter Solberg's Subaru Impreza WRC2003 is fitted with a new roll-control suspension system. The Norwegian's car also has a revised electronic control system for the rally, utilising Formula One technology and processing data at a higher speed. Tommi Makinen's car runs to the same specification as the previous round.

Sporting: Solberg arrives in Italy on the back of his second win of the season. He won out in a tight battle with Citroen's Sebastien Loeb to clinch ten points on Rally Australia. His success on the Perth-based event moved him into joint second position in the drivers' championship. This event has been a happy hunting ground in the past for Solberg's team-mate Makinen. Prior to Panizzi's three-year monopoly of the top step of the podium, the Finn won the rally twice.


Petter Solberg said: "I'm feeling great after my win in Australia, the top of the championship is getting closer. This is going to be a big month for everybody in the championship, but I'm feeling positive and will be working really hard to finish all three rallies on the podium. I beat Richard (Burns) on this event last year and I'll be looking for a similar result this time around. It's a rally which I really enjoy."

Tommi Makinen said: "This will be a challenging rally. Running in the Autumn it means the conditions might not be so good. There's probably going to be standing water and leaves on the road, which make it very difficult. Sanremo is a good event, the stages are flowing and nice to drive on."

Ford Motor Company (4th - 61 points)

Technical: The two Focus RS WRC03s which are running for Markko Martin and Francois Duval have been fitted with a lightened bell-housing and different hydraulic pumps for this event. Mikko Hirvonen's will be driving his usual 2002 specification Ford.

Sporting: Martin is likely to be a strong contender on this event. The Estonian finished fifth and top Ford driver last year, beating Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz, both of whom had more experience than him here in Italy. Just as Martin's pace on this event is well-known, this year's Focus also showed its mettle on sealed surfaces on Rally Deutschland in July - with Martin leading on leg one and posting fastest times on almost half of the stages. Martin's Belgian team-mate Duval is no stranger to asphalt, either. He's contested this rally twice before, both times in a Ford Puma. Duval and co-driver Stephane Prevot will make new pace notes for this event, but Duval pointed out that given that the rally's moving next year, there's not a lot of point in spending the event checking the notes. This event is one of just three WRC rounds that Hirvonen has competed on before.


Markko Martin said: "The car went very well in Germany, hopefully we can use that as a good base to work from on this rally. Sanremo is a tough rally - the conditions can be so inconsistent; you can start a stage on a south-facing slope and have good weather, then you go over a hill and onto the north side and it's very different." Francois Duval said: "One stage in particular on this rally is going to be really tough: Teglia, the 52-kilometre stage. That's going to be so hard on the brakes and everything, maybe it would have been better to have divided this into a 20 and a 30-kilometre stage."

Mikko Hirvonen said: "I learned a lot about driving a Focus on asphalt in Germany, I know more about looking after the tyres and things like that. Having been here before, I know it can be a tough rally - the stages are quite twisty: worse than Greece, but not as bad as Cyprus."

Skoda Motorsport (5th - 20 points)

Technical: This will be the second asphalt rally for the Fabia WRC, but the stages in Sanremo will present an entirely different challenge to those Skoda experienced on the car's debut in Germany. The team has worked on the car extensively since the last round in Australia, trying to improve the engine power and to improve the handling.

Sporting: Both Fabia WRC's reached the finish of Rally Australia, with Toni Gardemeister overcoming the pain of driving with a broken bone in his wrist to lead his former world champion team-mate home. The Finn expects his injury to be fully healed this weekend and won't be driving with any support on his arm. Auriol has fond memories of this event, having won in Italy three times previously. The Frenchman is also back to full fitness for this event, having recovered from the operation he had on his shoulder prior to the last round.


Didier Auriol said: "Having won this rally a few times before, it is one which I enjoy. It's hard to say how the rally is going to be for us, we don't have so much experience with the car yet. We did asphalt in Germany, but this will be very different on things like tyre wear. In Italy there are lots of roads that go steep downhill with lots of hairpins, which will really work the tyres hard."

Toni Gardemeister said: "Sanremo is a tricky rally for me. The roads are usually quite dirty with lots of surface changes. There's a lot of work to do on the car, but we saw from the split times in Germany that the car has big potential on asphalt. It would probably be best for me if the weather was bad on this rally; if it is raining and quite foggy then nobody can drive flat out."

Hyundai World Rally Team

Sporting: Hyundai will not start this event. The Hyundai Motor Corporation and the team which runs its cars in the FIA World Rally Championship - Motor Sport Developments - have been unable to reach a conclusion to their contractual dispute.


Armin Schwarz said: "I understand that if we haven't got any money then we can't do any rallies, but I find it strange that this thing has gone on for so long and got so far." Freddy Loix said: "There is nothing we can do. I will come to Sanremo and watch the rally, but it's not like competing. I feel sorry for the team, everybody at MSD has worked really hard this year."

Other entries

FIA Junior World Rally Championship leader Brice Tirabassi arrives in Italy in a confident mood, having won a French national rally in his Renault Clio last week. His efforts to defend a ten-point lead in the series will be helped by the fact that his Oreca-prepared car will be running new shock absorbers for this rally. Suzuki driver Daniel Carlsson is second in the standings while the Swede's fellow Ignis pilots Salvador Canellas and Umo Aava are third and fourth. Peugeot's WRC test driver Cedric Robert tackles this event in a private 206 WRC, as does Roman Kresta.


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team