Panizzi and Peugeot in a class of their own
10 March 2002
Peugeot's Gilles Panizzi has claimed the fourth world championship rally win of his career on the Tour de Corse, the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, which finished in Corsica today.
The Frenchman and his navigator, brother Hervé, finished more than 40 seconds clear of team-mates Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen as their Peugeot team celebrated a one-two-three result. Reigning world champion Richard Burns and navigator Robert Reid completed the formation finish.
Sunday's final four stages were held on predominantly dry conditions in contrast to the rain and mist of yesterday [Saturday]. But there was still plenty of late drama on the mountain roads east of Ajaccio. Philippe Bugalski claimed fourth overall in his privately-entered Citroen, but only after Ford's Colin McRae crashed heavily in the penultimate stage.
The 1995 world champion was taken to hospital suffering from concussion and a suspected broken finger on a bad afternoon for Ford - Carlos Sainz lost out to a charging Petter Solberg in the closing stages too.
All three Peugeot 206 WRCs continued to suffer from brake fade today, but that aside, the cars of Gilles Panizzi, Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns ran without major mechanical problems.
Panizzi consolidated his overnight lead on this morning's opening stages to stifle any possibility of a late charge from either of his team-mates. But then Colin McRae's penultimate stage accident forced the Frenchman to accept a 'notional' time, given by the event stewards. He used Peugeot's split time boards in the last test to make sure that even if he was given the slowest time possible, he'd still finish ahead of Marcus Grönholm and claim his fourth world championship rally win. He had more than 40 seconds in hand at the finish.
Grönholm was more concerned with the progress of Richard Burns, since a slightly softer tyre had given the Englishman enough extra speed to narrow the gap between the pair in this morning's stages. But on the return visit to the tests this afternoon, Grönholm fought back by setting fastest time in the day's penultimate test. He eventually finished second, around 12 seconds clear of the reigning world champion.
Gilles Panizzi said: ''I'm really happy. This is the best victory of my career because we've led right from the start and we've been quick in wet and dry conditions. Apart from the small brake problem we've had such a good set-up that I've been able to attack everywhere. I can't wait for Catalunya now!''
His team-mate Marcus Grönholm added: ''The main aim for me today was to make sure that I got second, because it's very useful for my world championship situation. But it's an amazing rally for Peugeot - to get the top three positions like this is a great result.''
Richard Burns continued: ''It would have been nice to have been challenging Marcus but with the brake problem I wasn't really able to be consistently quick. It's my first podium finish for Peugeot, though, so I'm relatively pleased.''
At Subaru the sole remaining Impreza WRC2002 of Petter Solberg has been reliable on final day of the rally. Tommi Makinen crashed out of the Tour de Corse yesterday [Saturday] when he slid off and damaged his car's suspension beyond repair in SS10.
Solberg's hopes of charging clear of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz appeared to have taken a knock this [Sunday] morning - the young Norwegian chose too soft a tyre for the opening pair of stages and he entered the repeat run in seventh. But third fastest time in the penultimate stage and then fifth fastest in the last test were enough to haul him clear of Sainz and with McRae crashing out in SS15, Solberg thus finished fifth to claim four manufacturers' points for Subaru.
Petter Solberg said: ''I lost some time this morning because I played safe and went for a wet set-up for the opening two stages. The car was fine but I also think I went a little too soft on tyre choice and I had to think about it over both stages. If you look back at some of the problems we've had - the punctures yesterday, my spin on Friday - then we clearly lost about a couple of minutes, which could have had us right up fighting for podium places. I'm really encouraged by how the rally's gone for us - we've made big improvements over last year and the new Impreza has been very reliable for its first event.''
At Ford the Focus RS WRC02s of Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin have been run without difficulties today.
Colin McRae expected to struggle against the Xsara WRC of Philippe Bugalski in this morning's predominantly dry conditions, but the Scot moved ahead over the first pair of stages to start the final two tests in fourth overall. But five kilometres into SS15, he was caught out by mud on the entry to a third-gear right-hand bend and slid sideways into a tree. A dazed McRae remained in the car for some time after the accident, before he was airlifted to hospital suffering from concussion and a suspected broken finger on his left hand. Navigator Nicky Grist escaped with just a sore head.
Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, lost out to Petter Solberg in this afternoon's final two stages - the Spaniard tried everything to keep the young Norwegian at bay but ultimately he had to settle for sixth and three manufacturers' points.
The third Focus driver, Markko Martin, has suffered badly from 'flu today but the Estonian still managed to overhaul Armin Schwarz and finish eighth, scoring a manufacturers' point for Ford. Young Belgian François Duval started today's stages in 10th overall but in SS14, a tyre exploded and he slid off the road.
Carlos Sainz said: ''It was a tough fight this afternoon. We have to find out why our package is not so good in the dry as it is in the wet - I think the driver can make a bigger difference in the wet but there must be something else. I had quite a big moment at the same corner as Colin's accident - it was slippery and I slid very wide but I got away with it.''
Nicky Grist added: ''It was a third-gear left-hand bend followed immediately by a right, and I think some mud had been pulled out into the road. When we tried to go for the right-hander there was clearly still some mud on our tyres and the car just understeered to the outside of the bend. There was a tree there and it hit the left-hand side of the car pretty hard.''
François Delecour's Mitsubishi Lancer Evo WRC has been reliable today, but Alister McRae has continued to struggle with overheating brakes in his car. He also lost time with an ATS mousse insert break-up in the final stage. Both drivers believe the Lancer needs more work to fine-tune handling on the bumpier roads.
Delecour started the closing four stages with little to gain, but he had to fend off Armin Schwarz if he wanted to make eighth place - and a manufacturers' point - his own. He effectively achieved that in the first two stages by extending his advantage over the German to more than half a minute; then Colin McRae's retirement promoted him to seventh and two manufacturers' points. Alister McRae continued to struggle with brake problems and he lost out to Freddy Loix in the closing stages. The Scot eventually finished 10th.
Delecour said: ''Today we found that a slightly softer construction of tyres actually helps our car, because it allows us to keep better contact with the road on the bumpier sections. We still have to find a lot more speed but it's encouraging that we've found an improvement. I'm happy to get a finish in the top ten, though, and to get manufacturers' points for Mitsubishi.''
His team-mate Alister McRae added: ''We've still had problems with the brakes today. Although we haven't had as much fade as we did on Friday, I've been modifying my own driving style to try to make things better. But at the end of fast sections when you really need stopping power, I can feel that the brakes aren't quite as strong as I'd like. Obviously we've got a lot of work to do before Catalunya to keep improving our performance.''
Hyundai's Freddy Loix felt that his Accent WRC3 was handling badly under braking on this morning's opening stage. Armin Schwarz suffered excessive right-front tyre wear on both SS13 and SS14, meanwhile. He then had to complete the last 31.79km stage with no power steering after it failed just before the start.
Armin Schwarz started today's final four stages with hopes of catching François Delecour but instead, an overheating right-front tyre blistered and cost him time on this morning's first two tests. The German tried to find a solution to the problem (it had already occurred earlier in the event) but he'd already lost too much time to Delecour. Then power steering failure for the last stage cost him chunks of time, dropping the former European Champion to 13th at the finish.
Freddy Loix lost confidence in his Accent under braking this morning, but the Belgian concentrated on finding a good dry weather set-up for the car.
Freddy Loix said: ''It was strange this morning. The car felt quite unstable under braking from virtually the first corner of the first stage. It's easier to set good times with the car in the wet than it is in the dry. It's a shame that we haven't finished in the points with the car on its debut but we've still got a lot to learn about setting it up. I'm hopeful that things will be better in Catalunya.''
His team-mate Armin Schwarz added: ''The power steering failed just before the last stage and it was very, very hard work. Of course I'm disappointed to lose so much time near the finish because up to that point, the car had been pretty reliable on its debut. We've still got a lot to learn but I'm pleased at some of the progress that we've made here. Hopefully we can make further improvements to the set-up before Catalunya.''
At Skoda Kenneth Eriksson had to retire his Octavia WRC from the event on today's [Sunday's] second stage with gearbox failure. Toni Gardemeister suspected that his differentials weren't working perfectly but that aside, his and Roman Kresta's Octavias ran without major problems.
Neither Gardemeister or Kresta had much chance of breaking into the top ten today, so both consolidated their positions and tried to find better set-ups instead. Gardemeister eventually finished 12th, with Kresta more than seven minutes further back in 14th. Kenneth Eriksson retired his Octavia this morning with gearbox failure.
Gardemeister said: ''It's been a difficult event. We've had a few problems but also it's been hard to get a good set-up for the sort of mixed conditions that you get here in Corsica. We've learnt some things about the suspension and the differentials and hopefully we can build on that.''
Roman Kresta noted: ''I'm just glad to get a finish here. This is my first time in Corsica and I've had to learn how the car behaves on the roads here, and try to guess what settings to take in the changing weather. It's been good experience for me.''
Of the other entries Philippe Bugalski continued to experiment with his privately-run Xsara WRC today, as the double Corsica winner tried to find a satisfactory dry-weather set-up in preparation for the Catalunya Rally. He lost confidence in the car's handling this morning and dropped behind Colin McRae into fifth, but a change of settings brought improved performance over the last pair of stages and fastest time in the closing test - plus McRae's retirement - brought him fourth overall at the finish.
In the Group N category for more standard vehicles, Peru's Ramon Ferreyros was a comfortable class winner in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7. He finished more than three minutes clear of the similar car of Dimitar Iliev, with Jean-Marie Santoni third in another E7 Lancer. The Frenchman was not registered for the Production Car World Championship, though, so fourth-placed Martin Rowe (driving an older Evo 6 model Mitsubishi) claimed third-placed points in the series.
Rally Statistics - Leg three:
43 cars (21 Group A and 22 Group N) restarted the rally
McRae (GB), Eriksson (S), Duval (B) & three other drivers
Today - Sunday 10 March:
Leg 3 started from Ajaccio at 08h20 and covered 230.37km, including 112.00km on four special stages.
Stage by stage summary - Leg three:
SS13 Coti Chiavari (24.21kms):
1. McRae (GB) Ford 15m 11.1
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 15m 15.4
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 15m 16.0
3. Sainz (E) Ford 15m 16.0
Leaders after SS13:
1. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 3h 00m 41.8
2. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 01m 23.1
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 3h 01m 39.7
SS14 Pont de Calzola (31.79kms):
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 17m 50.1
2. McRae (GB) Ford 17m 50.5
3. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 17m 50.7
Leaders after SS14:
1. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 3h 20m 18.4
2. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 20m 49.6
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 3h 21m 03.6
SS15 Coti Chiavari (24.21kms):
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 15m 10.4
1. Panizzi* (F) Peugeot 15m 10.4
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 15m 11.2
3. Bugalski (F) Citroen 15m 11.2
*time allocated by stewards after stage was stopped due to accident
Leaders after SS15:
1. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 3h 35m 28.8
2. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 36m 00.0
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 3h 36m 15.3
SS16 Pont de Calzola (31.79kms):
1. Bugalski (F) Citroen 19m 09.4
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 19m 11.5
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 19m 17.4
Leaderboard in Ajaccio after SS16:
1. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 3h 54m 40.3
2. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot +40.5
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot +52.4
4. Bugalski (F) Citroen +2m 02.2
5. Solberg (N) Subaru +2m 28.2
6. Sainz (E) Ford +2m 32.8
7. Delecour (F) Mitsubishi +5m 07.8
8. Martin (EE) Ford +5m 20.0
9. Loix (B) Hyundai +6m 13.8
10. A. McRae (GB) Mitsubishi +6m 32.5
Group N Leaderboard after SS16:
1. Ferreyros (PE) Mitsubishi 4h 17m 24.9
2. Iliev (BL) Mitsubishi +3m 11.9
3. Santoni (F) Mitsubishi +3m 41.3
4. Rowe (GB) Mitsubishi +7m 23.4
5. Trelles (E) Mitsubishi +9m 10.7
6. Harrach (A) Mitsubishi +12m 11.3
Final rally statistics:
The rally covered 937.83km, including 357.70km on 16 special stages (eight, all run twice). All stages were on asphalt roads closed to other traffic.
61 cars (27 Group A and 34 Group N) started the rally
37 cars (17 Group A and 20 Group N) finished the rally
Panizzi (SS1, SS2, SS3, SS4, SS7, SS8, SS11, SS12)
Solberg (SS6, SS10)
Grönholm (SS5, SS15)
Burns (SS9, SS14)
C. McRae (SS13)
FIA World Championships (provisional standings)
FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (after 3 of 14 rounds): Grönholm (FIN) 18, Mäkinen (FIN) & Panizzi (F) 10, Sainz (E) 9, Burns (GB) 7, Loeb (F) & Rovanperä (FIN) 6, C. McRae (GB) 4, Bugalski (F) & Solberg (N) 3, A. McRae (GB) 2.
FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (after 3 of 14 rounds):
Peugeot 36, Ford 20, Subaru 16, Mitsubishi 5, Hyundai 1.
FIA Junior World Rally Championship (after 1 of 6 rounds, this event not counting):
Duval (B) 10, Caldani (I) 6, Feghali (RL) 4, Carlsson (S) 3, Doppelreiter (A) 2, Schelle (D) 1.
FIA Production Car World Championship (after 2 of 8 rounds):
Sohlberg (FIN) & Ferreyros (PE) 10, Arai (J) & Iliev (BL) 6, Rowe (GB) 5, *Ipatti (FIN) 4,*Fiorio (I) & Trelles (E) 3, *Girdauskas (LIT) & Harrach (A) 2, Marrini (I) 1.
*pending exclusion from championship
Next event: March 21-24, 2002: Rallye Catalunya/Costa Brava - Rallye de España.