A PSA fight to the finish

A PSA fight to the finishFrom Chris Biewer [ 27/07/2003 ].
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The Rallye Deutschland was a thriller between the two PSA companies right down to the finish line. Richard Burns moved from 5th to 3rd in the first run over St. Wendeler Land, helped by a spin of Colin Mc Rae. Now Mc Rae had only been some 9s behind Richard, who in turn closed the gap to Marcus Grönholm to only 10s. In the remaining three stages Richard could extent his gap to Colin. Marcus Grönholm, who in SS19 today managed to have a (minor) off in the St. Wendeler Land stage for the 3rd year in succession, found himself in a surprising battle. Going into the last stage 13.3s behind Sébastien Loeb, by the finish line this melted down to only 3.6s!

This last stage turned into one of the most exciting thrillers for some time. Sébastien thought he had enough time to take it easy. But it appears he underestimated Marcus. Sébastien dropped time to Marcus already early in the stage and it seems Peugeot informed Marcus about that unexpected present, as Marcus’ split times became more and more impressive. But towards the end of the stage Sébastien could pull himself together again and he saved a very narrow win. The following situation is a showcase of what was happening: When Marcus Grönholm walked up to Sébastien Loeb to congratulate him, Sébastien shouts “I was told a split in the middle of the stage ‘plus 10’ and I…” followed by a gesture displaying panic.

While Marcus did not quite manage to improve his overnight 2nd position, Richard Burns improved from 5th to 3rd by the finish. He was helped by Colin Mc Rae going off briefly. But generally Richard had been the fastest Peugeot driver most of the day in a convenient repeat of his day 1 show. In leg2 Richard had bad luck with the weather, stages that were started in the dry often turned wet by the time he came as 15th in the running order. This cost Richard the lead he had nearly throughout leg1. In leg3 Richard could do some damage repair and completed the PSA podium lock out.

Richard told us at the finish: “I am only 19 seconds off the win. Yesterday I made 2 mistakes and lost a lot of time in the rain when our starting position was 15th. But then again Marcus and Sébastien had similar problems today.”

Gilles Panizzi seemed strangely off the pace, but then it was only his first start in Germany and Baumholder concrete is not at all like tarmac in the common sense. But Gilles was way off the pace in the vineyards and in Saarland as well. He kept complaining about braking and handling. But maybe the specialised and changeable conditions may just have been too different a challenge. His team tried everything, changed the whole brake system twice, nothing would improve his times and no real reason for his slowish pace could be identified. Gilles ended the rally in a disappointing 10th place – a tarmac specialist that has done much better than this on gravel recently.

Cedric Robert as well experienced brake problems, but he seemed happier with his day3 performance compared to that of leg2. He claimed about leg2: “The biggest problem was adapting my driving style to the car’s set up on slippery surfaces. I had difficulties in getting a good feeling with the car and getting the most out of it, especially when it came to judging my braking.” But the chance was used for Cedric to gain experience with the 206 WRC Evo3 and try different settings. Cedric confirmed after completing the last 3 stages with a different setting: “I’ve re-discovered a car which I can really turn into each corner with. As far as the earlier brake problems go, some new settings at the front for the final 3 stages gave me a much better sensation.

Unfortunately however the other Bozian Peugeot of Roman Kresta had to retire with brake problems in the penultimate stage. Roman Kresta won his first WRC stage yesterday, which was the first stage win for a privateer in a very long time. He was consistently quick today as well, on the edge of making it into the top10, but it wasn’t meant to happen this time.