Maximum points for Peugeot on the tarmac of Catalunya have given a welcome kick-start to the defending champions' 2001 campaign. Despite leading in Monte Carlo, Sweden and Portugal, their year got off to a worryingly lean start, but today's result saw them go straight into third position in the Manufacturers' classification.
Although the first two days of the Spanish round were marked by the dominating speed of newcomers Citroën, Didier Auriol and Gilles Panizzi kept on the pressure throughout and were rewarded with first and second places when pacesetter Philippe Bugalski lost time with clutch problems on his new Xsara WRC on the final morning.
Today's result comes as a reassuring relief not only for Peugeot but also for Auriol. After a barren period with an uncompetitive Seat in 2000, the Frenchman's most recent win before Friday's start dated back to the 1999 China Rally. And the one before that was here in Catalunya three years ago.
Both were achieved at the wheel of a Toyota-Michelin. For the record, the former World Champion's win this weekend takes his personal tally to 20 world class wins, equalling in the process the scores of Markku Alen and Colin McRae. Only Juha Kankkunen (23), Carlos Sainz (23) and Tommi Mäkinen (22) can claim better.
The maiden WRC outing of the Xsara couldn't have got off to a better start when Jesus Puras and Philippe Bugalski ended Day 1 in first and second positions respectively. The Citroën pair swapped places the following morning but nothing looked like troubling their outstanding display… until the Spaniard was stopped with terminal fuel pressure problems on the road section after Saturday's final test.
But the French firm was still in front with Bugalski going into the last leg and, on the day's opening stage (SS13), the Frenchman extended his cushion over the chasing Auriol to a seemingly comfortable 33 seconds. On the following test however, the Citroën driver reported a problem with his clutch's hydraulics, before a two-minute penalty for a delayed start on SS15 dropped him to fourth, handing control to his Peugeot rivals.
While all this was going on, Mitsubishi's Tommi Mäkinen made it another all-Michelin podium in Catalunya. The Finn had a trouble-free run today and, despite moving up to third as Bugalski's penalty was imposed, Makinen simply ran out kilometres to mount an assault on second-placed Gilles Panizzi.
Top stage times nevertheless underline the potency of the revised Lancer Evolution on asphalt, and the team can leave Spain satisfied with its performance on what has been four differing surfaces so far this season.
''Finally the result was alright for us,'' commented Tommi. ''I'm a little bit disappointed we couldn't find the perfect speed of the cars in front, and we have to work to improve the speed and also ourselves. I'm very happy to have increased my lead in the championship on the last Tarmac rally with this car. We'll see what the new one in Sanremo brings.''