Burns up to 4th without 2nd!

From Chris Biewer [ 08/06/2003 ].
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Peugeot may have had a bad start to the rally with Marcus Grönholm’s retirement on leg1 and Richard Burns sweeping the road for everybody else. But what a thriller of a last day (not only) Peugeot experienced! Peugeot’s main attention was on Richard Burns. He was the highest placed Peugeot driver going into the last leg, but Peugeot obviously wished for more than the 6th place Richard occupied. The idea about improving on this place was however rather ambitious. Richard’s 206 had a gearbox problem that could not be fixed, so he did all of the day without 2nd gear. And there is no question that missing 2nd gear is a major handicap when you are to tackle twisty, hilly stages on a heavy surface!

In the first loop of 3 stages today this handicap showed strongly. Although Richard put in good stage times, it looked unlikely that he was actually going to be able to improve his overall position. Especially the last stage of the loop was short but very twisty and demanding, all 2nd gear corners. To add to insult, here it was Tommi Mäkinen to post the fastest overall stage time. Tommi was of course the very man Richard tried to beat. Come the second and final loop over the same stages, with two stages to go the gap between Tommi Mäkinen and Richard increased to over 7 seconds and improving on 6th place looked ever more unlikely for Richard Burns and Peugeot.

But the penultimate stage showed a little surprise. Richard caught up, was now behind Mäkinen by the tiniest possible margin: only 0.1 second! More, Colin Mc Rae had suffered a misfire, so suddenly Richard was one tenth of a second off 4th place! This still made passing Tommi Mäkinen not exactly the easiest of tasks. Tommi is not exactly the guy to move over just like that. And of course this was the very stage Tommi Mäkinen had won earlier in the day. And Richard was still without 2nd gear. And this was the stage were having no 2nd gear was regarded as the biggest disadvantage compared to the other stages of the day. Richard himself confirmed: “Having no second gear was a big problem on the first and last stages this morning; the stage in the middle was not so bad.”

But indeed, Richard did it. The circumstances could just not have been any more negative than this. But Richard pulled a full 5.8s out of the previous winner of this Agios Stefanos stage, which was more than enough to snatch 4th place from right under the nose of the Subaru driver! Richard Burns may not have won a rally for Peugeot yet, but the attitude and determination he showed today after all that has been thrown at him surely deserves the highest of praise! Peugeot is very proud of Richard and Richard deserves to have even increased his championship lead!

Richard commented at the finish: “I’m very glad to get to the finish of this rally: it’s been extremely tough. I was expecting to lose time being first on the road, but the gearbox problem I had from day two onwards made driving conditions extremely difficult. On the last day I just concentrated on getting the car to the finish, although I also had difficulty shifting down into first gear. Looking on the positive side, my aim on this event was always to come away still in the championship lead and I’ve been able to achieve that.”

But as well the last day show of Harri Rovanperä and Gilles Panizzi was not exactly dull. It was probably more exciting than Harri had hoped for. Harri’s idea seemed to have a nice Sunday drive to the finish line, no point to push hard and take risks. But Gilles Panizzi, who apparently is no good on gravel, had very different ideas. Gilles stunned everybody with 2nd fastest time on SS20, which moved him to within 14s of Harri. And on the next, penultimate stage, Gilles was 2nd fastest yet again, getting uncomfortably close to Harri! Harri had to respond to keep his position. And this was as well good so, because Colin Mc Rae hit problems and in the final standings Colin dropped to just over 10s behind the battling Peugeot pair!

Fantastic show by Gilles, who for the 2nd time this year gains points on a gravel rally, while Harri muses about what could have been: “This has been a disappointing rally for me. Of course it’s always good to finish and score points, but earlier we had a chance to try and win. The car had the potential to do very well here, but just one problem let us down. There’s no point in thinking about that now though: I’m just happy to be at the finish, and I’m really looking forward to the next rally in Cyprus”

And finally Corrado Provera, who is willing to take the blame for the problems and who is extremely proud on his drivers: “This is a rally that we should have won but through our own fault we didn’t. The mechanical problems we experienced were nothing to do with the nature of the rally, but we have still come through to score some valuable points. I’d particularly like to congratulate Richard, who has put in a performance that is truly worthy of him, and Harri, who was amazing here. We are sorry not to have taken advantage of all the opportunities available to us, but we are very happy indeed with the performance of our drivers. I am very happy for Richard, he drove a very good event. But after that, I have to say a big and genuine well done to Ford. We know what it is like trying to win with a new car and they have done it. Congratulations to them”.