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Puras sets the pace on the Tour de Corse

19 October 2001


Citroen driver Jesus Puras holds the upper hand on the 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Tour de Corse, which started from Ajaccio today.

The Spaniard mastered the twisty island roads to eke out a 10-second cushion over Frenchman Gilles Panizzi over the opening four stages. As in Sanremo two weeks ago, French manufacturers and tyre supplier Michelin have dominated the timesheets, with Panizzi's Peugeot team-mates Didier Auriol and Marcus Grönholm in third and fourth respectively at the end of today's action.

The highest-placed championship contender is Colin McRae in 11th, but two of his rivals have already retired. Carlos Sainz damaged his Ford's sump guard and stopped with low oil pressure this morning, while joint series leader Tommi Mäkinen crashed heavily in SS5 and retired on the spot. His accident caused the stage to be cancelled, so today's results were formed from the opening four stages.

Jesus Puras's Citroen Xsara WRC has been reliable today. Philippe Bugalski's example retired with front suspension damage after the Frenchman clipped a wall on today's opening stage.

Bugalski was the first major retirement this morning, when the Frenchman clipped a wall barely one kilometre into the opening stage and retired on the spot with front-end damage. Jesus Puras has fared better - the Spaniard grabbed the lead on the second stage and held it to the fifth, although his hopes of keeping the lead overnight hung in the balance until event stewards decided to completely cancel the fifth stage after Tommi Mäkinen's accident. That means that Puras will start tomorrow's second leg with a 10.5 second lead over Gilles Panizzi.

Puras said: ''It's going very well and the car feels absolutely fantastic but I've been in this position before. I know what it feels like to lead a rally - now I want to know what it feels like to win one. It's just about concentrating on the next stage and never thinking about what's just happened. That way you can stay motivated and keep sharp.''

At Peugeot the three 206 WRCs of Gilles Panizzi, Didier Auriol and Marcus Grönholm have been reliable today, although Auriol and Grönholm both suffered from punctures in the opening stage. Panizzi was far from happy with his car's handling for much of the day, but suspension changes left him more satisfied on the final loop of tests. Grönholm's cause hasn't been helped by a cracked windscreen either.

Panizzi led after today's first stage but the Sanremo winner was soon bumped down to third by Jesus Puras and Didier Auriol, as he struggled to find confidence in his car's handling. He was even less pleased after the day's longer stage but then he recovered, inching past his team-mate into second overall prior to the ill-fated fifth stage. Puncture aside, Auriol has been satisfied with progress as he held third going into SS5, while Grönholm occupied fourth. The world champion was concerned that handling glitches has left him nearly a minute behind Panizzi, though.

Gilles Panizzi said: ''The times have been good but it's been very difficult. The car in the long stage just wasn't the Peugeot 206 that I know - it was basically 36km of understeer and that wasn't fun. I had to use the handbrake about 10 times just to get the car turned into corners. I think we can take the fight to Jesus Puras a bit more tomorrow but he and Didier are both pushing hard. It's going to be a good fight.''

Didier Auriol added: ''I can see why so many people have hit problems so far. The stages are very difficult. The puncture we had wasn't such a big problem - I felt the vibration from about six kilometres into the stage and I had to ease off a bit to make sure it didn't get worse.''

Richard Burns' Subaru car suffered left-front wheel damage when he hit a rock face on today's second stage. The cars of Petter Solberg and Markko Martin have both been ok.

Burns's hopes of challenging for a podium place though took a serious knock on today's second stage, when the Englishman mis-heard a pacenote and damaged his Impreza against a rock face. He lost more than a minute as a result, although he subsequently fought back to hold a placing just outside the top ten. Petter Solberg made no such mistake, though, and the young Norwegian posted top-six times to hold five overall going into the fifth stage. Markko Martin has also set strong times, even though the Estonian driver admits that he's been caught out more than once by extra bite in his Impreza's brakes. Toshihiro Arai, meanwhile, retired six kilometres into today's opening stage when he put his Impreza onto its roof.

Richard Burns said: ''I thought I heard Robert (Reid) call two fourth-gear right-handers but instead, he'd called a fourth-gear tightening into a third-gear. I went wide and hit the rock face. It bent the left-front wheel back into the arch and that made it hard on right-handers.''

Petter Solberg noted: ''It's going quite well. We seem to have cured almost all of the understeer that was such a problem for me in Sanremo and the car's now handling well. On the longer stage I chose a harder tyre that I'd never used before and I was unsure of it at the start, but I'm basically quite pleased.''

Ford's Carlos Sainz was forced to retire after this morning's second stage when the Spaniard's Focus lost oil pressure. He'd hit a rock near the end of the previous test and cracked the sump guard, and although he used every fluid in the car to try to reach service, the engine stopped about a kilometre short of his destination. Colin McRae's and François Delecour's cars have been reliable, although both have suffered from punctures and mousse break-ups.

A puncture on this morning's second stage cost Colin McRae more than a minute and the Scot struggled to recover as he tried different tyre compounds in an attempt to find more grip. He ended the leg in 11th, albeit more than two minutes off the lead. Carlos Sainz's rally ended one kilometre from service after SS2, as his Focus's engine expired with no oil pressure. He'd cracked the sump near the end of the previous stage after hitting a large stone. François Delecour, though, has posted respectable times and despite a mousse break-up into today's longest stage the Frenchman holds sixth overnight.

Carlos Sainz said: ''It was a left-hand corner and at the exit of the bend there was a big stone. There was no way to avoid it and it actually lifted the wheels off the ground for about 600 metres as it stayed between the sump guard and the road. Then after the stage I saw the oil pressure light on and although we tried to make it here, it wasn't possible.''

Colin McRae added: ''There's really nothing else that we can try here. All we can do is drive around and hope that enough people hit trouble for us to get a point, and that's not really a very good situation. Roll on Australia!''

At Hyundai the Accent WRC2s of Alister McRae and Piero Liatti have been basically reliable today, although McRae suffered a small brake caliper fire at the end of the first stage. Liatti's water injection pump also suffered from glitches in the first loop of stages, although the Italian was later pleased with changes made to the rear suspension set-up.

With no testing since Sanremo, Alister McRae and Piero Liatti always knew that it was going to be a struggle to get closer to the French manufacturers. But the Corsican stages appear to suit the Accent better than those in Italy, and McRae has managed to get his car into 11th - ahead of both Skodas, one Mitsubishi and brother Colin's Ford. Liatti's pace improved once he'd become happier with the rear suspension settings and the Italian holds 13th overnight, just ahead of Richard Burns. Both cars are currently in manufacturers' points placings, though.

Alister McRae said: ''I think the stages are better for us here because the asphalt's more abrasive and the roads are more flowing. So we don't actually need to accelerate and brake as often as we might because we can carry more speed instead. We're under no illusions, though - we need more speed if we're going to fight higher up the leaderboard tomorrow.''

Mitsubishi had a nightmare day today and with precious little time to develop the Lancer WRC further since its debut in Sanremo, both Tommi Mäkinen and Freddy Loix were forced to play with suspension and differential set-ups this morning. Although both pronounced themselves more satisfied with the rear of the car, each complained of severe understeer. Loix suffered punctures in SS1 and SS4, while Mäkinen crashed out in SS5.

Tommi Mäkinen had moved into eighth overall going into today's fifth stage but the Finn clipped a rock face on the inside of a corner and flipped his Lancer onto its roof. It slid along the road and teetered on the edge of a large drop. Co-driver Risto Mannusenmaki was taken to hospital as a precautionary measure. Freddy Loix, meanwhile, has struggled badly with punctures and understeer and the Belgian lies outside the top 30.

Makinen said: ''It was a very big accident. It was quite a fast place and the car flipped very quickly. This rally really isn't much more dangerous than others but it's the sort of place where your car has to be 100 percent from the very first corner. It's not possible to develop a car here.''

His team-mate Loix continued: ''The puncture on today's first stage was a complete mystery to me, because it happened at the end of a long straight that was basically immediately after the start line. We felt the vibration, then saw smoke and had to change the wheel.''

The Octavia WRC Skoda of Armin Schwarz has been generally reliable today. Bruno Thiry retired his example after SS4, however, with transmission problems. He'd earlier suffered with fading brakes in the long stage.

Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry both fought hard to keep their cars near the top ten, although both felt much better equipped to do so once they'd reverted back to older suspension at the first proper service. Schwarz ended the day 15th and optimistic about quicker times tomorrow, but Thiry retired with transmission problems after SS4.

Schwarz said: ''We tried some new suspension this morning but it went in totally the wrong direction for us and made the car very hard to drive. Since we've gone back to what we knew before it's much better. In the longer stages and in the high temperatures we've seen today it's always going to be hard on tyres and brakes so I've been driving accordingly.''

Of the other teams three drivers have led the FIA Super 1600 Cup section today. Ford's François Duval held the initial advantage before he retired with engine problems; then Sebastien Loeb was slowed by brake glitches, allowing title rival Andrea Dallavilla to move 7.3s ahead overnight. Giovanni Manfrinato leads the Group N section for more standard machinery in his Mitsubishi Lancer E7.


Rally statistics:

Starters: 85 cars (53 Group A + 32 Group N) started the rally
Retirements: Makinen (FIN), Bugalski (F), Arai (J), Thiry (B) + 9 other drivers

Today - Friday 19 October: Leg 1 started from Ajaccio at 08h00 and covered 331.79km, including 126.81km on five special stages.

Tomorrow - Saturday 20 October: Leg 2 starts from Ajaccio at 08h00 and covers 279.31km, including 155.55km on seven special stages. The first car is expected to arrive in Ajaccio at 17h21.

Weather forecast: More overcast with a stronger chance of showers

Stage by stage summary - Leg one:

SS1 Cuttoli-Peri (17.40kms):
1. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 11m 24.6
2. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 11m 26.9
3. Puras (E) Citroen 11m 27.3

SS2 Ocana-Radiacale (27.64kms):
1. Puras (E) Citroen 17m 17.5
2. Auriol (F) Peugeot 17m 23.0
3. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 17m 28.7

Leaders after SS2:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 28m 44.8
2. Auriol (F) Peugeot 28m 53.2
3. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 28m 53.5

SS3 Ste Marie Sicche-Petreto (36.73kms):
1. Puras (E) Citroen 23m 49.7
2. Auriol (F) Peugeot 23m 51.7
3. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 23m 52.1

Leaders after SS3:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 52m 34.5
2. Auriol (F) Peugeot 52m 44.9
3. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 52m 45.6

SS4 Cuttoli-Peri (17.40kms):
1. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 11m 21.8
2. Puras (E) Citroen 11m 22.4
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 11m 23.3

Leaders after SS4:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 1h 03m 56.9
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 1h 04m 07.4
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 1h 04m 08.2

SS5 Ocana-Radicale (27.64kms):
Stage cancelled due to accident

Leaders after SS4:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 1h 03m 56.9
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot +10.5
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot +11.3
4. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot +38.0
5. Solberg (N) Subaru +50.5
6. Delecour (F) Ford +1m 02.1
7. Martin (EE) Subaru +1m 08.9
8. Mortl (A) Subaru +1m 37.6
9. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot +1m 50.1
10. A. McRae (GB) Hyundai +2m 03.3


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