For the second year in succession, Gilles Panizzi and Peugeot-Michelin have proved the force to beat on the asphalt stages of Sanremo. Despite the early pace of FCitroÃ«n-Michelin's Jesus Puras and Philippe Bugalski, the Frenchman took command for...
For the second year in succession, Gilles Panizzi and Peugeot-Michelin have proved the force to beat on the asphalt stages of Sanremo. Despite the early pace of FCitroën-Michelin's Jesus Puras and Philippe Bugalski, the Frenchman took command for good on Day 2 to clinch the third WRC win of his career. When rain began to fall over the Riviera on the final day however, revelation Sébastien Loeb (2nd, Citroën- Michelin) came within a hair's breadth of causing a major upset, finishing a mere 11.4s behind his fellow countryman. Third for Didier Auriol (Peugeot-Michelin) made it a one- two-three triumph for French drivers, French cars and... French tyres!
First in Corsica and in Sanremo in 2000, second in Spain last March and winner again today in Sanremo, Gilles Panizzi is slowly but surely establishing himself as one of the most successful asphalt experts in WRC history. Even when Jesus Puras piled on the pressure on Day 1, the Frenchman slipped calmly into the Citroën-Michelin driver's slipstream before inheriting the lead when the Spaniard and the chasing Philippe Bugalski crashed their Xsara WRCs at the start of the second leg. From that moment on, Panizzi was able to control from in front, making the most of the margin he had pulled out to keep sole Citroën survivor Loeb at bay, even when the weather deteriorated on the final afternoon.
With the final asphalt round of 2001 just over the water in Corsica looming large on the horizon, the 206 WRC's success in Italy clearly puts Peugeot back in with a chance of retaining the Manufacturers' world title, especially with Didier Auriol (3rd) steering his car to six points in Italy. If the French pair can repeat their success on their home event on October 19th-21st, it will set the scene for a fascinating three-cornered shootout between front-runners Ford, Mitsubishi- Michelin and Peugeot-Michelin with just two events to go (Australia, Great Britain).
While Peugeot's Italian performance - which saw four 206 WRCs finish inside the top seven - throws a whole new light on the World Championship picture, Sébastien Loeb proved the sensation of the Sanremo. The 27-year old currently leads the FIA's new Super 1600 series thanks to three category wins to date, yet he has never previously competed at world level in a works-entered WRC car. Citroën-Michelin put that one straight this weekend by offering him a one-off drive in the official Xsara WRC line-up alongside Puras and Bugalski.
An intelligent, perfectly-paced run saw the French youngster play himself gradually in on Day 1 before moving up to 2nd place thanks to two fastest stage times on the second leg. He then crowned his performance on Leg 3 by slashing his overnight deficit of 34.5s to Panizzi to just over 11s at the chequered flag.
In tyre terms, this weekend's result extends an unbeaten run for Michelin on asphalt that dates back to the 1998 Sanremo Rally. The latest evolutions of the celebrated N 'FP' dry weather tyre gave the French firm's driver-partners the confidence, consistency and cornering speed that added up to making a very real difference at the finish.
Meanwhile, Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot-Michelin) profited from his visit to the Italian Riviera to demonstrate that he too, despite his Finnish origins, is a driver to be taken seriously on sealed surfaces. Unfortunately, power steering problems on the final morning while in 4th position ended up relegating the reigning champion to 7th and out of the points behind Carlos Sainz (4th, Ford), Italian privateer Renato Travaglia (5th, Peugeot-Michelin) and François Delecour (6th, Ford).
Joint provisional championship leaders Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi-Michelin) and Colin McRae (Ford) both failed to add to their points score in Italy. McRae struggled to finish in 8th position, while the Finn left the road on the treacherous penultimate test while in 11th place. Finally, Subaru's Richard Burns crashed out on the very first stage of the rally.
MICHELIN'S RALLY... Too good to mention!
UNBEATEN RUN... The latest generation of Michelin dry weather tyre, the technologically sophisticated Michelin N 'FP' remains unbeaten since its WRC debut in Sanremo in 1998.
TRIPLE 'C'... On such a fiercely fought event and on such exacting stages, it is perhaps significant that tyres were not a major talking point in most Michelin driver interviews over the three day event. Even so, tyres clearly played a major role in the way the event unfolded with the leaderboard dominated from start to finish by Michelin runners. It's just that the Confidence Michelin's products inspired and their Consistency, coupled with their unrivalled Cornering speed allowed the drivers to put them to the back of their mind and concentrate on the job of winning the rally!