Sanremo Rally Leg 1 (Friday, 20 September 2002) Summary Following last night's ceremonial start in the picturesque Italian coastal resort of Sanremo, 53 competitors left parc ferme at 0600hrs today to travel east to the central service park in...
Sanremo Rally Leg 1 (Friday, 20 September 2002)
Following last night's ceremonial start in the picturesque Italian coastal resort of Sanremo, 53 competitors left parc ferme at 0600hrs today to travel east to the central service park in Imperia for the start of the eleventh round of the World Rally Championship, the 44th Sanremo Rally.
Eight twisty and narrow asphalt stages comprising 147 competitive kilometres lay in wait for the crews in the hills to the north of Sanremo. Weather conditions remained dry all day, yet some sections on the stages were damp, particularly under the trees, and low cloud shrouded some of the higher stages in the afternoon - dropping visibility to 50 metres in places.
As expected, Sanremo's smooth asphalt surfaces suited rallying's experienced asphalt aces and the French manufacturer teams dominated the day's proceedings. Peugeot's Gilles Panizzi was the day's most consistent contender and will start tomorrow holding the overall lead, 22.8 seconds ahead of Philippe Bulgalski. Marcus Gronholm third, is a further 16.2 seconds behind.
Looking to the 555 Subaru camp, Petter Solberg is in seventh place. The Norwegian set impressive times throughout the day and despite picking up a 10 second time penalty is well within striking distance of the leaders. However, not such a good day for team-mate Tommi Mäkinen. Despite a run of promising times, the Finn retired from fifth place with a broken front-left drive shaft 5km before the Leg's final stage. In his second race for the team, Achim Mörtl, gained more confidence throughout the day and is well placed ahead of tomorrow's second leg.
SS1 0807hrs Passo Teglia 1 (14.44km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 10:23.5
Marcus Gronholm, hungry to regain the WRC title he lost last year to Richard Burns, set the fastest pace on the first run through the twisty Passo Teglia stage. The Finn finished 0.8 seconds ahead of Phillipe Bulgalski, who was second in his non-works Piedrafita Sport Citroen Xsara, while Gronholm's Peugeot team-mate Richard Burns was a further two seconds behind in third. An excellent start for 555 Subaru driver Tommi Mäkinen. The Finn, who has previously won this event, finished joint fourth quickest with Peugeot's asphalt ace Gilles Panizzi - back in the driving seat following his shoulder injury. Bad news for Hyundai's Armin Schwarz however. The German became the first casualty of the tricky asphalt course when he hit a block of concrete 11.8 km into the stage which ripped off his rear left wheel. Petter Solberg was eighth quickest, 3.3 seconds ahead of Colin McRae who was tenth.
SS2 0832hrs Passo Drego 1 (26.46km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 17:41.9
French asphalt ace, Gilles Panizzi, proved he was back on form and, despite complaining of minor shoulder pains on the narrow turns, stormed through SS2 to clinch the win. He finished 3.7 seconds ahead of second placed Gronholm. Burns was third quickest and rounded off a top one-two-three for Peugeot. Best of the rest was 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg. The Norwegian set a blistering pace and finished fourth, just 0.1 seconds behind his old team-mate Burns, while Mäkinen was seventh. A slow start for Ford's Colin McRae however. After stalling his Focus on SS1, the Scotsman clipped a concrete edge 2km from the start of SS2 collecting a puncture. He finished 13th. Problems too for his brother Alister, who was forced to stop when the bonnet of his Mitsubishi blew open temporarily obscuring his view through the windscreen screen.
SS3 0940hrs Ghimbegna 1 (10.44km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 6:38.9
Problems for Championship leader Gronholm when a lack of turbo-boost cost him almost 14 seconds to team-mate Panizzi and saw him tumble from second to seventh place overall. Meanwhile, capitalising on his team-mate's misfortune, Panizzi raced through the stage to claim his second consecutive win and extend his overall lead to 5.9 seconds. Burns was second fastest, the position that he moved into overall. Proving that he could match the pace of the French asphalt aces, Subaru's Petter Solberg finished third fastest, in front of Ford's Markko Martin and Citroen drivers, Puras and Bulgalski, who were fourth, fifth and sixth respectively. Mäkinen was seventh while Mitsubishi's Alister McRae, still suffering with a broken windscreen picked up on the previous test, was 16th. At the end of the stage, the crews headed beck to Imperia for the second scheduled service of the day.
SS4 1209hrs Cosio 1 (19.19km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 12:13.0
As expected, the French manufacturers again dominated the action, with Peugeot notching up another top one-two-three. Panizzi took the stage win, extending his overall lead by a further 3 seconds to 8.9 seconds, while Gronholm, now running in his revitalised Peugeot, was second with Burns just behind in third. Bulgalski was fourth. However, it wasn't all good news for the French teams and Peugeot's Harri Rovenpera dropped over a minute with a hydraulic problem. Top of the non-French entries was leading 555 Subaru pilot Tommi Mäkinen and Ford's Markko Martin who set exactly the same time through the 19km test to finish joint fifth. At the end of the stage Mäkinen, feeling more confident with the set up of his Impreza, held fourth overall, and lay just 15.7 seconds off the lead. His team-mate, Petter Solberg finished seventh fastest but collected a 10-second penatly for jumping the start. It was the first time his WRC career that he had received such a penalty. Bad luck too for Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard's rally came to an end at the start of the test due to an oil leak in his Ford `s hydraulic pipes, located between the differentials and transmission.
SS5 1255hrs San Bartolomeo 1 (25.38km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 15:03.7
The first run through the twisty San Bartolomeo stage saw the French teams continue to trade top times. However, by the end of the stage, it was Panizzi who was emerging as the most consistent driver as he stormed through to clinch his fourth successive win. Bulgalski was second, slashing nearly five seconds out of Burn's overall time, and moved up to claim second place overall, demoting Burns to third. Gronholm, working to make up for his earlier turbo problems, was hampered by a faulty downshift but still managed to finish fourth quickest. At the 555 Subaru Team, Tommi Mäkinen was seventh, Petter Solberg tenth (despite a spin which cost him 10 seconds) and Achim Mörtl 13th. Meanwhile Rovenpera's difficulties continued and, slowed by both hydraulic problems and additional differential difficulties, he finished well off the pace in 22nd.
SS6 1533hrs Passo Teglia 2 (14.44kms)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 10:19.4
The first of the final group of the three repeated stages run earlier in the morning saw Panizzi take his fifth consecutive stage win of the day and increase his overall lead by a further 0.3 seconds to 13.7s. A consistent performance from Bulgalski netted him second and increased his overall lead on Burns to 10.7 seconds. Gronholm was third followed by Puras in fourth. Solberg continued his promising run and finished fifth for the 555 Subaru team, while Mäkinen was seventh, finishing ahead of Burns and Markko Martin who were eighth and ninth respectively.
SS7 1558hrs Passo Drego 2 (26.46km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 17:30.0
No retirements on the second run through the long Passo Drego stage but Colin McRae got off to a difficult start when his Ford Focus stalled on the start line. The Scotsman completed the stage but lost 40 seconds and dropped down a place on the overall leaderboard to twelfth. Panizzi continued his blazing run and set a sixth consecutive fastest time to take a 17.3 second cushion into the final stage. Bulgalski was second and extended his overall lead on Burns to almost 20 seconds. Continuing the French teams run, Gronholm was third, Puras fourth and Burns fifth. 555 Subaru drivers Solberg and Mäkinen were best of the rest finishing sixth and eighth respectively, over a second ahead of Ford's Markko Martin who was ninth.
SS8 1706hrs Ghimbegna 2 (10.44km)
Fastest time: Panizzi (Peugeot) 6:40.4
In an unfortunate twist and following a promising start, 555 Subaru's Tommi Mäkinen became the Leg's third casualty when his front-left drive-shaft broke 5km before the start of the final stage. Together with co-driver Kaj Lindstrom, Tommi tried to repair or remove the shaft, but despite their best roadside efforts, they were unable to complete the work in the minimal time available (15 min). Looking to the leaders, Peugeot's Panizzi was quickest again through the short, final sprint and extended his lead over second placed Bulgalski to 22.8 seconds. Gronholm was second and snatched overall third place from Burns, who was ninth. Markko Martin was third while Solberg was fourth and completed the leg in a promising seventh place overall. At the end of the stage less than seven seconds lay between him and fifth placed Markko Martin in the overall standings.
Petter Solberg: "Yes, overall it's been good. You know I have a good feeling, I think the car is handling well. Today I've had a spin and jump start which have lost me about 20 seconds in total but, taking that into account, I'm very happy with my overall position. You have to remember that there are two long days to go."
Tommi Mäkinen: "I was on the road section between 7 and 8 when I noticed that there was no drive. We stopped to investigate and found that the front left drive shaft was broken. We tried to fix it but had no luck. The only option then was to remove the drive shaft but as we only had 15 minutes on that section we did not have time. It's a big disappointment of course. We could see we were more on the pace on this rally, the trust was building and my confidence too. It would have been good to see where we could have finished here."
Achim Mörtl: "Today's been going like I expected it would. So far I have spent a lot of time experimenting and on some occasions the settings have been better than on others. It's all about trust and building that trust between me and the car. It's moving forward well and tomorrow we should progress further."
Team Principal David Lapworth: "Initially we were pleased with the way both drivers were performing. The pace was good, both drivers were happy and the car and tyres were going well. Petter has ended the day in a good position considering he dropped 20 seconds with a jump start and a spin but Tommi's bad luck continued. It's a great shame, he was on good form and setting good times. He was well positioned at such an early stage in the rally. All we can do now is do our best to support Petter and Achim on the forthcoming stages."
Technical talk - Weather Crews and Tyre Choice
Sanremo is renowned for its pleasant mid-September temperatures yet, up in the Ligurian hills where the rally's stages are run, weather conditions are often more severe and can change rapidly without much warning.
Good weather information is vital for teams to ensure that they make the correct tyre choice so the 555 Subaru Rally Team employ a weather crew at each event to go into the stages to monitor the conditions and report back to the team in service. This is particularly important for the Sanremo Rally.
On each morning of the rally the weather crew position themselves at a pre designated spot, often the highest point that will be used during that day, from about 5:00am. Then, using both road temperature and air temperature gauges, they take readings every 15 minutes to compile a pattern of the changing conditions and forecast the likely developments for the next couple of hours. This information, which reveals the dampness of the roads, the amount of standing water and moisture in the air, is relayed back to the service area and helps the team ensure that they have selected the correct tyre compound and construction for the proceeding group of stages.
Although FIA regulations limit teams to just two tread patterns per event (which must be selected four weeks before the start of scrutineering for European rounds) there is no limit to the amount of compounds or constructions that can be used within this. In addition, teams are allowed to `cut' additional tread into the tyres to modify them to suit the changing weather conditions.
Running again through the Ligurian hills, the drivers will contest a further 150,57 competitive kms of smooth tarmac. Comprising six stages, tomorrow's leg is the longest of the rally. The first stage starts at 0825hrs.