Peugeot fight it out amongst themselves
20 October 2000
Peugeot 206 teammates Gilles Panizzi and Francois Delecour dominated the opening leg of the San Remo Rally, fellow teammate and championship leader Marcus Gronholm would end the day sixth almost a minute behind.
The Peugeot camp was far from happy however with heated exchanges between Panizzi and Delecour over allegations that the former had been recceing illegally. Nevertheless any ill feelings did not affect either driver's speed as between them they would claim seven out of the eight special stages.
Gronholm, on the other hand, would struggle in comparison due largely to a lack of experience on tarmac. However he knows that the remaining events will be on his favoured surface gravel, so perhaps he realises that he just needs to keep his main competitors in check, without overstretching himself too much.
Richard Burns, the only driver to break the Peugeot domination with a win on the first special stage, acknowledged that they had an advantage – but was pleased to be the only driver within striking distance of the lead pair, he said “The Peugeots are proving difficult to catch but it's good to be so competitive against them. I'll not be changing anything for tomorrow, just concentrating on catching the cars in front.”
Burns' Subaru teammate Sebastien Jean-Joseph finished the day a credible ninth despite suffering mechanical problems as he explained, “I had a power-steering problem on the last stage, but it's very early to be thinking of the final result and I'm concentrating on having a more consistent day tomorrow.”
Sainz would end the day fourth, 52.3seconds adrift of Panizzi, and was disappointed to have ended up so far off the pace having had no major problems, “Once we altered the set-up to improve the handling, the car felt good. Our times improved as did our position although I'm a little disappointed not to be closer to those ahead of us. I feel I'm driving well and hopefully we can progress and climb further on tomorrow's longer stages,” he said.
Fifth place Piero Liatti survived a fiery incident while approaching the end of the second special stage, when smoke began to enter the cockpit, he explained “When we reached the finish flames were coming from underneath and we had to jump out and use our fire extinguisher to put them out.” The cause of the fire was found to be an oil leak from the differential – which was fixed by the Ford crew.
Bravest drive of the day must have gone to Colin McRae, who drove remarkably consistently (and quickly) given his physical condition following his Corsica crash, he finished the first leg in eighth place. He said “I was not able to test here before the rally so I spent the whole day trying to find the perfect set-up for the car. Now I think I'm there and hopefully we'll benefit from that tomorrow. Tonight I'm more tired than I expected. I felt pretty good up until lunchtime but then I began to get quite weary.”
Reigning World Champion Tommi Makinen was never able to challenge for stage victories but was consistently within the top ten times, steadily improving the car as the day went on. He said “This morning was quite slippery in places and we've been playing with the suspension settings a bit. The last two stages went very well and we are now happy with the car and are concentrating on the driving.”
Makinen then will be pinning his hopes on a better day tomorrow, he said “We've got good stages to start tomorrow and those were the ones we were fighting on during the last leg this time last year when we won. We have good memory of them so will be pushing hard.”
Teammate Freddie Loix had his own problems with the Mitsubishi Carisma GT, as he explained “I am not so satisfied with the balance and handling of the car, it's not totally flowing, and we must try and do something about this for tomorrow. Four kilometres into the last stage, turning into a right corner, the power steering locked up and we hit something on the inside of the corner and went into a bank, which pushed us to the other side of the road. Fortunately there was a barrier which kept us on the road, but we damaged the side of the car.”
Didier Auriol, driving the Seat Cordoba achieved some good finishes today, but was not able to be consistently quick “My best times were on the slightly shorter Baiardo-Apricale-Perinaldo section, which was more technical and twisty and suited my driving style better. We had bad luck with the spark plug because without that problem we would now be in the top ten. Our position” he said.
Group N has seen a battle brewing between Alessandro Fiorio and Gianluigi Gialli, with the former having built up a considerable lead in the early stages only for Gialli to come back strongly at the end of the day – finishing just 1.9secs behind.
Fiorio knows that he will have to fight hard to hold on to the lead, but is pleased with the cars abilities.
“I have done only two rallies in the Carisma GT, but it seems very good I must say and we have had a good day. There is a lot of competition though and I think it is going to be really tough tomorrow,” he said.