Tour de Corse: Peugeot preview

Peugeot ready to do battle Of the three remaining rounds of the 2003 World Rally Championship, the next two will take place on asphalt, and Peugeot will have to obtain top results both times if it is to optimise its chances of securing a ...

Peugeot ready to do battle

Of the three remaining rounds of the 2003 World Rally Championship, the next two will take place on asphalt, and Peugeot will have to obtain top results both times if it is to optimise its chances of securing a fourth consecutive Manufacturers' crown. Meanwhile, Richard Burns knows he will face strong opposition in his bid to take the Drivers' title. Outgoing winner in Corsica and Spain, Gilles Panizzi will again spearhead the French team's bid in these two events alongside Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns.

With fourteen rounds organised across the planet, the World Rally Championship places a considerable workload on the factory teams, and there can be no better illustration of this busy calendar than October's schedule: between the Friday 3rd (start of the Sanremo Rally) and Sunday 26th (finish of the Catalonia Rally) the WRC teams will have competed in three rounds that follow each other in rapid succession. Thankfully, they are geographically close to each other, but the special feature of this sequence is that all three events take place on asphalt, in contrast to the predominantly gravel encounters that made up the majority of the rest of the season.

The triple World Championship-winning 206 WRC is competitive on all types of surface but it enjoys a particularly glowing record on the classic sealed-surface rounds. After its second place in Sanremo, the entire Peugeot Sport team will be determined to get back on top in the next two rallies on which it has frequently shone in recent seasons. Last year in Corsica, the 206 WRC posted a formidable one-two-three finish which followed from a one-two success in 2000. The team has every reason to be proud of its showing too on the asphalt of Catalonia where it collected consecutive one-two finishes in 2001 and 2002.

Finally, given that the French car is a past winner of the season's final round which, true to tradition, takes place in Great Britain, it is clear that Peugeot, currently second in the Manufacturers' standings, four points behind the leader, still stands a first rate chance of defending its crown. On the proviso, of course, that the coming events go well for its drivers.

The recent Sanremo Rally saw Gilles Panizzi conclude the weekend in sparkling fashion to fight back from fifth to second place and clinch valuable extra points for Peugeot. That said, the event didn't quite go as well as the winner of the last three visits to Italy had been hoping... "This rally was doubtlessly tougher than anticipated and the opposition was very strong," he accepted, "but we are still in with a chance of winning the Manufacturers' championship. It will take true teamwork and, more than ever, we must all pull together, but I believe we can do it^Å" Gilles Panizzi won his home round of the championship in 2000 and 2002 and he is also the outgoing winner in Catalonia, and his performance on the two rallies to come could prove decisive in the final championship outcome.

Marcus Grönholm is another driver with good reason to give his absolute best in Corsica and in Spain. His recent showing in Germany, where he emerged as the only Peugeot representative involved in the fight for victory, then in Italy, where he was again his team's best-placed runner before being sidelined on the ultimate stage, shows just how fast the talented Finn has become on asphalt. Yet his efforts do not always go rewarded, as illustrated by his last-minute retirement on the Sanremo Rally. Third place seemed to be his for the taking and would certainly have earned valuable points in his and his team's respective bids for the Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles.

Unlucky also in Australia recently, where he disappeared following an off while leading, Marcus Grönholm will be motivated by a driving appetite for both revenge and points. Last year, he obtained an excellent second place in Corsica and was fourth in Spain. In 2001, he retired from both events.

Richard Burns kept up his consistency record in Sanremo by harvesting points for the tenth time in eleven rallies. However, the Briton was not particularly satisfied with his performance in Italy. "I was glad to see the finish and also to come away with some points, but I can't remember ever having such little confidence in myself and my car," he explained at the finish. The Rally of Great Britain should be more favourable to him, which means the next two rounds on the Mediterranean rim could well prove decisive. Last year, Richard came away from Corsica last year with the bronze medal before taking silver in Spain and could well be back up there with the best of them this time round--


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Series WRC
Drivers Richard Burns , Gilles Panizzi , Marcus Gronholm