From Chris Biewer [ 23/09/2002 ].
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Gilles Panizzi won the Rally San Remo in convincing style and completed a hat trick. After finishing 2nd here in 1999, Gilles and brother Hervé won the event in 2000, 2001 & 2002. In the process, Gilles won 9 out of 18 stages this year and that despite his recent shoulder injury. It does look like Gilles would still be dominating on tarmac if he drives with only one hand. There were plenty of reasons for him to celebrate at the finish ramp in San Remo.
Gilles: “I’m delighted, of course. This was a difficult victory because my shoulder injury made me quite tired and it’s always harder to concentrate in that situation. I had a lot of pressure from Philippe Bugalski in the early stage and then Marcus was always there, too. But the car has been perfect for me – everyone in the whole Peugeot team has done a very good job.”
For Marcus Grönholm it was a fantastic event as well. He finished 2nd and won 5 of the 18 stages. In fact the Finn, who is still regarded as having limited tarmac experience, seemed to be able to consistently keep Gilles Panizzi under pressure. He lost about 15s on the first day for a minor turbo problem and when he stalled the engine. So this could have been even closer.
Marcus: “When I saw the dry roads this morning I knew there was no chance to catch Gilles. But six points is good for me in the championship and we’ve got another maximum score for the team. If we hadn’t had problems in the first day we could have been closer to Gilles but he would have been very hard to beat.”
Richard Burns however failed to complete the Peugeot 1-2-3. The effects of a wrong tyre choice by the whole team late in leg2 affected him worst, as he lost 3rd place in the process. However, Richard proved to be a fair sportsman and even told in public at the end of leg2 that, should Petter Solberg manage to stay ahead of him, he deserves it. Richard seemed to keep having a struggle in Italy, a 40s time loss in SS10 when he braked too late and skidded into a wall is only one example. Richard felt that the Rally San Remo has never been overly kind to him. Indeed, compared to Gilles Panizzi’s strong record here, this was only the 2nd time Richard even finished the event.
Richard: “If we’d been 10 seconds behind this morning we would have had a better chance, but with 20 seconds to make up it was too much. At least I’ve worked out why we lost speed earlier in the event.”
Meanwhile newcomer Cedric Robert could keep up his impressive and faultless drive for the 3rd day also and finished 7th overall. Harri Rovanperä finished 9th and Bruno Thiry was 13th after some problems in leg2. Renato Travaglia finished 14th overall and won the S1600 category in a 206 Maxi. So half of the top10 cars were Peugeots and all 6 Peugeot 206 WRC to start the event made it to the finish without major drama.
Further, it was the 6th straight 1-2 victory of the year for Peugeot, one more and Peugeot has equalled the record for 1-2 finishes. Lancia managed 7 of these 1-2 victories back in 1988, when however the competition was nowhere near as strong as it is nowadays. The record for most points in one season under the current points system is long broken, that record stood at 114points (Subaru in 1997), while Peugeot already has got 131points despite there being 3 events still to come.
In the WRChampionship battle Peugeot can be considered likely to put the lid on the 2002 affair in 2 weeks time in New Zealand. Peugeot only needs 4points, equalling one 3rd place to have enough points that they cannot be beaten until the end of the year. Marcus Grönholm’s situation is similar. Richard Burns is currently Marcus’ strongest challenger for the title, but he had somewhat of a struggle in San Remo. This combined with Marcus’ strong performance in San Remo, means that Marcus only needs to find another 8points from the last 3 events to be invincible. Depending on the results of his opposition, the drivers title could as well be settled in New Zealand.
All this is really remarkable for a manufacturer and Corrado Provera is extremely proud: “We are totally happy. What Gilles and Herve have done here has been quite remarkable. Gilles has coped with his shoulder superbly, and Marcus and Richard have both driven very well, too. It’s true that the manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships are not decided mathematically but we would be crazy to lose them from this position.”