24 March 2001
One down but Citroen still on top.
Jesus Puras, meanwhile, had to pump his brake pedal for more than 15km of SS9 after it went to the floor. ''The brake problem was not so nice, because it was hard to commit to corners when you don't know if the car's going to stop,'' explained Puras.
However, he was forced to retire after SS11, when his Xsara WRC stopped with low fuel pressure.
The 206 WRCs of Didier Auriol and Gilles Panizzi haven't been able to catch either of the Citroens today, but they have remained a match for rivals from Mitsubishi, Ford and Subaru.
Auriol has stayed closest to Bugalski and Puras and the 1994 world champion is still charging for the lead. ''All I can do is keep trying,” said Auriol. “Today's been quite good for me because at least I have a bit more of a lead over Gilles, but Bugalski is probably too far ahead now. I won't give up - of course not - but it looks like second for me unless something happens to him.''
Third-placed Panizzi, however, is not yet completely clear of a threat from Tommi Mäkinen.
''In the long stage, I attacked more than I've done on any other stage of the rally. When I crossed the line, (navigator) Herve told me he thought the time would be good and I agreed. But then I saw the leading three cars' times and I couldn't understand it. Of course I'll keep trying, but I don't think we can catch them,'' admitted Panizzi.
Tommi Makinen has been pushing hard today, but the mighty French manufacturers, who excel on the surface adopted for their national championship, continue to hold the leading three positions. Makinen is however now in a position to fight with asphalt expert Gilles Panizzi, the Peugeot driver holding a mere 12 second advantage going into the final day of competition.
''We've been pushing very hard today, even too much in places,'' commented Tommi. ''The corners are very slippy and it's very difficult to find the same speed as the French cars on Tarmac. It was our target to try and catch Gilles Panizzi today but, with the cancellation of the final stage, we need to put that off for tomorrow. It seems very difficult at the moment as everyone is driving very fast and at times we are wondering what the cars in front are doing with the tyres. It seems we were on the same ones, but it's working a bit better for them at times, I think.''
Mitsubishi Carisma GT team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets continue to put in a fine performance in one of their favoured events. The Belgians held sixth until Carlos Sainz and Francois Delecour powered their Ford's ahead, but the trio are locked in a battle and split by just three seconds at the end of a day when thousands of fans have once again witnessed world-class action.
''There's been a lot of gravel on the stages but it's the same for everybody,'' said Freddy. ''We're pushing very hard to try and get back ahead of the Ford boys, but they've been a bit quicker. It's not over yet and we hope we can find the same speed as yesterday.''
Adding to their comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager George Donaldson said: ''It's been a tough day but we've performed consistently. We knew it would be hard here, but this is the World Championship - we never thought it would be easy. Road conditions tomorrow are totally different and we're back to something we were very comfortable on yesterday. Freddy's in a fantastic battle and both he and Tommi will continue to fight for points-scoring positions.''
Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and team-mates François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup fought back during today's second leg of Spain's Catalunya Rally to climb into the all-important points-scoring positions.
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