WRC » 1 October 2000
Panizzi wins Peugeot duel.
''The final stage was very difficult because it was raining heavily,'' said the 38-year-old, ''Before it started the team told me the roads were dry, but I told them I'd never seen dry roads running with water before! I think they told me it was dry to make me happy! We had to push hard, though, so as not to give Richard Burns any chance of catching us.''
Burns endured another up and down day at the wheel of his Impreza, winning stages 15 and 16, but struggling to feature in the top three of the others. The English driver was more mystified by the fact that he could not put his finger on any one reason for the failings, and concerned that his own championship chances could be further dented by the improving form of series leader Gronholm.
''I really don't know why I'm not setting faster times,'' he grimaced, ''I just can't have tried hard enough on the first stage today, but I pushed hard all through SS13 and still couldn't get it right. It seems that we're quite close to the Peugeots and Fords halfway through the stages, but then lose the time on the second half. It's a mystery, because the car doesn't feel like there's anything getting worse.''
By the end of the day, having won two stages, Burns was a little happier, and more confident that he could do something when the series reconvenes in Italy at the end of the month.
''I think we've learnt a fair bit here - it's been a while since we've done a tarmac rally, and we've done a lot of development since the [last one],'' he said, ''Perhaps we have found that there are places that we still need to do more work on, and we've got the chance to do that, so San Remo's looking better. We have not had any mechanical problems at all here. The only things we have had were perhaps some mistakes with the set-up when the conditions got tricky.''
Gronholm got close to the Subaru midway through the leg, but could not respond enough when Burns got the hammer down on 15 and 16, and had to be happy with fifth at the end after minor transmission problems interrupted his progress, despite a stage win on SS17. With McRae crashing out, however, and Burns finishing just a point ahead of him, only Sainz made any serious inroads into the Finn's advantage, leaving him more confident of edging towards the title in the coming rounds.
''It's a very useful result for me in the championship,'' Gronholm acknowledged, ''I always said that a points finish here would be excellent and we've come away with two points. Apart from learning the Corsican stages, I'm now feeling even more comfortable with the Peugeot on asphalt and I know that'll be useful in San Remo. I intend to try the same transmission set-up as both Francois and Gilles between now and then, to see if it makes any difference.''
Completing the point scorers at the end of the 18th - and final - stage, Piero Liatti reminded team bosses that he should not have discarded into the WRC wilderness several seasons ago. Drafted into the Ford squad to give it extra bite on the asphalt, the Italian fulfilled his role when McRae dropped out, standing him in good stead to replace the Scot should he be forced to miss San Remo.
''We had a few difficulties with the clutch on the final stage, but we overcame that and I'm really delighted,'' Liatti said, ''I have a very good set-up with the car and that makes me confident for my home rally in Italy later this month. We've also learned much about the team's new semi-automatic gearchange system, the sort of information you can only learn in competition.''
Just missing out on a world championship point, Subaru's own asphalt expert Simon Jean-Joseph also did enough to convince the team to include him in its Italian plans by notching a valuable Manufacturers' series score.
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