Saturday, 9th March Frenchman Gilles Panizzi holds a dominant position in the lead of the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Tour de Corse, which continued in Corsica today. The Peugeot driver and team mates Marcus Gronholm and...
Saturday, 9th March
Frenchman Gilles Panizzi holds a dominant position in the lead of the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Tour de Corse, which continued in Corsica today. The Peugeot driver and team mates Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns have maintained a clean sweep of the podium placings throughout much of today's action, although damper conditions did allow Subaru's Tommi Makinen to briefly move ahead of Burns in third. The reigning world champion soon reclaimed the position, though, and Makinen retired shortly afterwards when he crashed and damaged his car's suspension beyond repair.
Ford's Colin McRae has used his improved car performance in the damp conditions to move into the top six. The Scot now lies just 5.5s behind fourth-placed Philippe Bugalski (another driver to show increased speed today). But even their battle is nearly a minute adrift of Burns with just tomorrow's four stages remaining.
Technical: The 206 WRC of Marcus Gronholm has been reliable today, but Gilles Panizzi and Richard Burns did complain of a loss of brakes towards the end of SS9. The problem recurred for the Englishman in the last three stages of the day.
Sporting: Gilles Panizzi and Marcus Gronholm both opted for an intermediate tyre on this morning's opening, long stage but the Frenchman survived a puncture to post the faster time and extend his overnight lead over his team-mate. Thereafter, last year's Sanremo Rally winner then set four fastest times in six stages as he built up a cushion of more than 40 seconds by the end of SS12. Gronholm has encountered no problems and the 2000 world champion remains a comfortable second, 20.4s ahead of his nearest rival. The third 206 WRC driver, Richard Burns, lost his overnight third position on the first stage this morning when he opted for cut slick tyres. He fought back, posting the fastest time in SS9 to retake the final podium placing from Tommi Makinen before second service. Brake problems prevented him from challenging Gronholm seriously this afternoon, however.
Quotes: Gilles Panizzi said: "The car has been perfect today - it's easy to drive and that means I can push, push, push! I don't think I've attacked this hard in wet conditions since I drove a Peugeot 309 in the French championship - and that was a long time ago! It's looking good but we still have four stages to go and with the weather changing we must keep concentration."
Richard Burns said: "Apart from the tyres this morning, the only real problem has been the brakes - I don't know why they're fading in the wet when there was no problem in the dry, but at the end of the long stages the pedal's virtually at the floor."
Technical: The Impreza WRC2002s of Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg have been generally reliable today. The Norwegian's only real problem was a right-front puncture for much of SS9.
Sporting: Both Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg got off to a flying start this morning thanks to choosing the correct tyres for the opening 36km stage. The two Impreza drivers opted for cut slicks and they set first and second times on the test. Their pace was enough to move Solberg ahead of Carlos Sainz into fifth, and Makinen clear of Richard Burns in third. But as conditions got wetter still the two drivers elected to use softer compound Pirellis for the following three stages and it proved the wrong choice. Lack of pre-event testing in damp conditions compounded the problems, as Makinen slipped behind Burns again and Solberg - troubled by a puncture in SS9 as well - fell to seventh. Makinen then slid off and damaged his car's suspension beyond repair in SS10. Solberg's afternoon got worse, too - he stalled on the start line of SS11, then had a left-rear puncture for more than half of SS12 and lost the tyre for the last few kilometres. He ended the day in seventh, just over four seconds behind Sainz.
Quotes: Tommi Mäkinen said: "There was a 40-metre straight before a right-hand bend, and there was water running down the road under the trees. We couldn't see the water and when we tried to brake, the car lifted itself onto the water and we were passengers. We went off and hit some rocks on the outside of the corner and broke the left suspension. It seems this rally is not a good one for me, but I can just try to make it better in Catalunya."
Petter Solberg said: "It hasn't been the best of days, really. We had a couple of punctures and then I stalled on the start line as well. We could be higher up - the opening stage this morning showed we have the speed."
Technical: The Focus RS WRC02s of Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and Markko Martin have been reliable today.
Sporting: It took time for either Carlos Sainz or Colin McRae to capitalise on the damp conditions they'd prayed for this morning. Both drivers chose the wrong tyres for the opening stage - Sainz dropped behind Petter Solberg, while McRae ceded a place to Philippe Bugalski. Things improved for the pair in SS7, SS8 and SS9, though, with at least one of the pair featuring in the top three on each stage. Sainz hit trouble in the last three stages, though, when he couldn't get confidence in the tyres. He dropped time to Bugalski and McRae as a result, and ended the day in sixth. McRae benefited from his team mate's problems but the Scot was closer to the pace than before in any case - he set second fastest time on the last stage of the day to end the second leg in fifth, just five and a half seconds off Bugalski. The third Ford driver, Markko Martin, has struggled to gain experience of the Pirellis and the Focus on damp roads. He holds 11th overnight. Young Belgian François Duval was actually the fastest Ford in SS6, but a puncture in SS8 and a misted screen for the last three tests undid all of his good work. He occupies 10th in his 2001 specification car.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "We have to find out why this whole package works well in the wet and doesn't in the dry. You can't just point the finger at tyres, either - the Subarus weren't exactly slow in the dry. If conditions stay like this then we can push Bugalski - if they dry out, we have to work out who we can stay ahead of. It's that much of a reversal."
Technical: The Lancer Evo WRCs of François Delecour and Alister McRae have been reliable today.
Sporting: Mitsubishi is still learning about the Lancer Evo WRC in damp conditions but it already seems clear that the still-new car is more competitive in the wet than in the dry. As conditions deteriorated today, François Delecour in particular managed to inch his Lancer towards the top ten and by the close of today's action, he'd moved into eighth. He and Alister McRae continued to struggle with the car's handling, particularly under acceleration, but the Scot has improved his overnight position too - he now holds 12th, less than a minute behind his team-mate.
Quotes: François Delecour said: "We're making slow progress with fine tuning the car set-up, and it's better today. In the middle group of stages, I went very cautious at the start because I was afraid that my tyres would go off, but in the end they were fine."
Technical: Armin Schwarz's Accent WRC3 has been reliable today, but Freddy Loix hit hydraulic problems as soon as he left service for today's opening stage. The Belgian thus had to complete the 36km with low pressure in his front differential and he lost around half a minute as a result. His problems were made worse by far too hard a tyre compound, too.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz spun on this morning's opening stage but that aside, the German has enjoyed a competitive day. Some top ten times moved the German into the top ten by the end of SS12 - he'll start tomorrow's final four stages in ninth overall. Freddy Loix lost time with differential problems and too hard a tyre compound in this morning's opening stage but thereafter, the Belgian has been able to swap seconds with his team-mate in most tests. He ended the day in 13th.
Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: "It's been going okay today - we chose the right tyres for the middle three stages and they worked well, although there was some standing water near the end of SS9 and we had a few exciting moments with aquaplaning. As for the spin in SS6, it was my fault. I was a bit too optimistic on the handbrake, the back came round and although I then tried to spin all the way round it just didn't happen. We're learning so much - I've played with the differential settings in every stage this afternoon - sometimes I've been using three or four 'maps' in one test."
Technical: The Octavia WRCs of Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta have been reliable today. But Kenneth Eriksson continues to suffer from excessive pressure in his centre differential - the Swede has been complaining of understeer.
Sporting: Toni Gardemeister felt that he got his tyre choice correct this morning, and despite backing off too much because of concerns over wear, he still moved up the leaderboard. The young Finn even broke a rim and punctured in SS9 but Michelin's ATS mousse system intervened to prevent serious time loss. Gardemeister arrived back in Ajaccio tonight in 14th overall. Team-mate Roman Kresta lost time by choosing slicks for the middle group of three stages and he suffered a puncture in the last stage of the day but the Czech driver continues to gain experience of the Corsican roads in 17th overall. Kenneth Eriksson has struggled with differential problems, but the Swede moved ahead of Kresta in the closing stages to hold 16th overnight, when the Czech got a four-minute penalty for a delayed start.
Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: "I was worried that on the intermediate tyres we'd have bad tyre wear, so I backed off a bit on the first and third stages of the middle group. But when I got to the finish the tyres were fine, so I know I could have pushed a bit harder. I'm still getting good experience of what the Corsican roads are like in the damp."
A change of differential and consistently good tyre choices have transformed Philippe Bugalski's rally. The Frenchman, driving a privately-run Citroen Xsara WRC, benefited from Tommi Mäkinen's retirement but on pace alone he moved clear of Petter Solberg, Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae to hold fourth overnight. Other leading privateer World Rally Car drivers haven't been so lucky - Bruno Thiry's Peugeot 206 succumbed to transmission problems in SS10 while Achim Mortl's similar car hit electrical problems in the day's opening stage. Harri Rovanperä's Bozian Racing-run 206 has struggled today, meanwhile. The Finn has been troubled by suspension settings, understeer and tyre choice, and he ended SS12 in 15th.
In the Group N category for more standard vehicles, Ramon Ferreyros now holds a dominant lead after his nearest rival, Hamed Al Wahaibi, hit trouble this morning. The Oman driver slid off for six minutes in SS9, then hit a wall shortly after he regained the stage. The resulting damage to his steering left his Lancer crippled but he almost made it back to service before grinding to a halt only a few hundred metres from the time control. Ferreyros's closest challenger is now Bulgarian Dimitar Iliev, although the 26-year old is more than a minute and a half adrift. Frenchman Jean-Marie Santoni holds third in the Group N category, but he is not registered for the FIA Production Car World Championship - Briton Martin Rowe will thus claim third-place points if he can hold his overnight position. Italian driver Norberto Cangani started today's action with hopes of challenging Rowe but he crashed heavily in SS9. He was taken to hospital following the accident.