The 45th Rallye Sanremo takes place this weekend, the eleventh round in the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship. Italy will also play host to the fifth round in the 2003 FIA Junior WRC.

Rallye Sanremo is a classic European asphalt event, using stages which are sometimes run in each direction.

Won for the last three years by the French driver Gilles Panizzi, whose family lived in this region of Italy. This is the first of a series of three world championship rallies to be run in the same month, all three on asphalt.

The same service park will be used for the three days of the rally, and 63 cars have entered.

New this year:

There are few major changes to the format of the event. The most important new feature will be the double run over the 52km stage (numbers 7 and 10, run on Saturday), the longest stage on the rally in the history of the event.

The ceremonial start will take place on Thursday evening, this time at the same location for the Friday morning restart, on the seafront close to the headquarters (Hotel Royal) at the Piazza Carlo Dapporto (formerly known as Lungomare delle Nazioni).

FIA World Rally Championship news:

The FIA World Motor Sport Council, voted to approve a number of changes to the championship for 2004.

The changes aim to significantly reduce costs enabling the championship to expand from 14 to 16 events. The existing events continue, the two new events are Mexico and Japan.

Two date changes have been made to the championship calendar: New Zealand is now to be 16/18 April, Argentina on 11/13 June.

News from the manufacturers' teams:
Marlboro Peugeot Total:

[Marcus Gronholm, car #1 and Richard Burns, car #2. Also nominated Gilles Panizzi, car #3].

Not only does Gilles Panizzi have the chance to win this event four times in a row, but world championship leader Richard Burns has finished in third place on the past three rallies. This will be Panizzi's 50th world championship rally entry.

Citroen Total:

[Colin McRae, car #17 and Sebastien Loeb, car #18. Also nominated Carlos Sainz, car #19. Also entered but not nominated Philippe Bugalski, car #20.]

Only team with four full works entries. The team has confirmed that they have released Colin McRae as from the end of the season and that Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz will spearhead their programme in 2004. This is the only asphalt world championship rally still not won by Citroen.

Ford Motor Company:

[Markko Martin car #4 and Francois Duval, car #5, in 2003 specification cars. Also nominated Mikko Hirvonen, car #6 in a 2002 version car].

New transmission parts are to be used on the '03 version cars, including a lightweight bellhousing and a different hydraulic system. Technical director Christian Loriaux commented: "The bellhousing helps to lessen the weight over the front axle, while the new hydraulic system enables faster response time and is something we have been waiting for time to develop. Furthermore, Cosworth has come up with an upgrade in integrating the engine controls designed to improve driveability."

555 Subaru World Rally Team:

[Petter Solberg, car #7 and Tommi Makinen, car #8.]

Luis Moya, the world's most successful and most experienced world championship co-driver, who retired from active competition at the end of 2002, has joined the team in a new position of sporting director. He will work alongside George Donaldson, who continues with the team on an on-event basis.

Skoda Motorsport:

[Didier Auriol, car #14 and Toni Gardemeister, car #15.]

Toni Gardemeister broke his wrist in a charity ice hockey match after Neste Rally Finland, but that did not stop him finishing 11th on Telstra Rally Australia.

Didier Auriol meanwhile spent four days testing in Spain. He noted: "I feel we have now got to the point of knowing how to make the car react how we want, and I am really looking forward to the rallies to come."

Hyundai World Rally Team:

[Armin Schwarz, car #10 and Freddy Loix, car #11.]

Hyundai will miss this event owing to a dispute between Motor Sport Developments [MSD] - the outfit that looks after the WRC programme for the Korean firm, and the Hyundai Motor Company itself [see seperate story].

It has also been announced that the Hyundai team will terminate their current world championship programme at the end of this season, and work will then begin on preparing a new model, ready for use in the 2007 season.

News from the Junior WRC:

Championship leader Brice Tirabassi is confident. The Oreca team who prepare the Renault's is using newly homologated shock absorbers and with them Tirabassi has already won the Cardabelles Rally in France.

Suzuki has made their first tests this year on asphalt, near Berga in Spain. Team manager Risto Laine noted: "Salvador Canellas is our tarmac specialist and also took part on the Asturias Rally for experience. Our best news was when Peugeot invited Daniel Carlsson to join them next year. If a member of our team is asked to join the best WRC team in the world, we are thrilled."

At Top Run, Ceccato has a new car after his accident in Finland, while Marcos Ligato has a two-day test before recce in the Cuneo region.

Italian asphalt rallying is new to Guy Wilks, but he will have a familiarisation test before recce near Pieve di Teco: "I know I must concentrate only on my efforts, and pay no attention to the times made by the other drivers, especially the local ones..."

San Marino driver Mirco Baldacci recently gained his first outright rally win, in Austria. "The event was sponsored by the Harrach family, and held on their land. I was first and second was... Beppo Harrach."

Harrach hopes to start Sanremo: "I have three options, but there are still ongoing difficulties with my previous team and I do not know whether I will be allowed to take part or not."

Team Palmer who run Kris Meeke's Opel has been restructured in the hope of projecting their excellent British championship results into success in the JWRC. So far, Kris is one of only two drivers yet to score: "I may be Irish, but I am basically a gravel rally driver, but the car should be more reliable on asphalt. One thing we have learned from the JWRC: you have to work hard at it all the time."

The two Bulgarians Dimitar Iliev and Krum Donchev (the latter now his own nation's champion) are both expected to start with Auto Sport Italia Peugeot 206s, with a celebrated team-mate Piero Liatti.

Recent decisions for Alex Broccoli, the youngest JWRC driver, have been to make a change of co-driver, to Giovanni Agnesi, and to change his Corsa on this event for a Renault Clio: "Do not expect too much from me on this event. Don't forget that for us San Marino drivers, gravel is our natural surface, not asphalt. We still have the old type engine, and we will be very happy if we score some more points."


Other top runners:

Czech driver Roman Kresta, who scored a remarkable fastest stage time in Deutschland will take part in Rallye Sanremo. He noted: "This is going to be a really important rally for me, it could even shape the future of my career. I have a good car from Bozian, I just hope it all goes well."

Oreca are running three Clio Super 1600s, for Simon Jean Joseph and the FFSA supported driver Nicolas Bernardi, in addition to JWRC driver Brice Tirabassi.

Special facts:

The Sanremo Rally, in earlier days called the Flowers Rally, has been Italy's premier rally for more than a generation.

In earlier days the rally was run substantially over gravel roads, which in time became tarmac. The event has also been run as a mixed surfaced event, surfaces run on mixed surfaces both in individual stages and also on individual sections of the rally.

Although every year the little roads in the hills behind Sanremo have featured, they have been run in conjunction with stages in many other regions of the country.

Many years ago the event was a winter rally, run in cooperation with the ski resort of Sestrieres. More recently gravel stages have been run in Tuscany, Umbria and San Marino provinces. Asphalt stages have been run close to Turin. And once some classic Sanremo stages were run as part of Rallye Monte Carlo.

Few events in the championship have been held in such a wide selection of conditions.

Challenge of the event:

There is a mixture of surfaces between wide and narrow roads, all in good condition. The biggest factor is expected to be the long stages.

A spokesperson for Michelin commented: "The long stage is not particularly abrasive, and at this time of year and at the time of day the long stages will be run, the temperatures on the stages are not expected to be very high. Tyre selection remains critical on account of the long time between leaving Service Park and reaching the end of the stage [up to two hours]. Not only can the weather change a lot at short notice but also the temperatures as well."

A spokesperson for Pirelli agreed: "For us the main thrust of our development work for this rally has been to make the tyres maintain consistent performance through a stage."

Attention:

There has been a considerable change in the layout of the route since it was originally announced. Originally it was planned to dispense with the early morning servicing at Imperia, but that plan has now been abandoned. The correct itinerary is that which lists 14 not 17 special stages.

 

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