Former Peugeot WRC driver Gilles Panizzi has signed a deal to contest the latest round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in Sanremo.
Panizzi will team up with Niall McShea in the Proton team for the event, which he has won three times in the past, with the Frenchman set to help with development of the Satria Neo S2000.
While currently a one-off deal for the Sanremo event, the partnership could become more long-term depending on the outcome of the weekend.
"I never expected to be here,” Panizzi admitted. “In my head I was done with driving competitively a few years ago. But then the opportunity came up to be part of something completely new and use my experience to benefit a manufacturer trying to come up in the sport.
“We are both using this event to get to know each other, and if we each feel that the conditions are right at the end of it, then we will look at a longer-term collaboration. I'm considering this rally more as a test than a competitive event: it's been two years since I've driven so it's not realistic to expect to be on the pace straight away and I'm going to be surrounded by drivers who are a lot younger, hungrier and match-fit than me! What I can do is make a few suggestions to develop the car in the long run.
“I drove the Proton very briefly in Britain and it felt like a very good car, a good base. Now we have a test, but this is just before the start of the rally, so there will not be the possibility of making any dramatic changes before we begin. We are just going to take each stage as it comes, as it's impossible to predict how we might get on. If we can see an improvement in the car and the times over the course of the rally, and if we get to the finish, then it will be a good achievement.
“I love coming to Sanremo as it's a fantastic rally that brings back many happy memories but there's certainly going to be no pressure this time, as we have no particular expectations. I always give a hundred percent and I've got a serious job to do but I'm also going to enjoy myself: it's always a huge pleasure to drive a rally car on these roads, particularly when you were not expecting to!"