29 September 2000
It's Peugeot, but it's Panizzi.
As expected, Peugeot led the way on the opening day of the Tour de Corse, but it wasn't championship leader Marcus Gronholm to the fore.
Instead, as the tarmac novice Finn struggled to find his feet on the Mediterranean island, expert team-mates Francois Delecour and Gilles Panizzi set the pace. Recalled for his ability to add to the team's manufacturers' points total, Panizzi emerged as the surprise overnight leader, having won four of the six stages.
First blood was spilt by the Subaru of Richard Burns, but it quickly became apparent that this was an anomaly, as the erstwhile series leader found himself scrapping for crumbs around the base of the top six, and rarely threatened the dominant 206s thereafter. Burns attributed his seeming lack of pace to just trying to take it easy on the first day of three, planning to make his move as others faltered on the treacherous mountain roads.
''''I'm very disappointed with this first day and I really don't know what to say, but the important thing is not to make any mistakes,'' he stressed, ''Pushing unnecessarily hard won't give me any advantage tonight.''
Fifth going into the second day, Burns trails the strong Peugeot pair and both Fords as well, following a strong showing from Cyprus winner Carlos Sainz, and a couple of top three finishes from team-mate Colin McRae. The Spaniard put his performance down to the confidence boost he received by destroying the field in the last round, and will look to improve his lot by pressuring the two men ahead of him from the off on Saturday.
McRae, meanwhile, was left to rue an error in tyre choice which, despite giving him third spot after the opening test, proved to be too soft to cope over the relatively long stages thereafter.
''The tyres were moving around too much when I pushed hard,'' the Scot explained, ''This is typical asphalt rallying - we're all very close and so the only way anyone gets a big advantage is if someone else makes a mistake.''
While the championship contenders endured their mixed fortunes, Panizzi and Delecour were quick to capitalise. Delecour took an early lead after following Burns home on the opening stage, winning the third, and only being out of the top three times on the final test of the day. His consistency was not to be rewarded, however, as Panizzi got into his stride, and made subtle gains over his fellow Frenchman later in the day.
''It's not easy to come back after six months and go quickly immediately,'' he said of his slow start, before issuing a chilling warning to his rivals, ''However I hope that I can get back to being fully competitive over the next two days.''
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