From Ben Mulkern [ 30/09/2001 ].
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The Ford World Rally Team welcomes a new name to the driver ranks this coming weekend, with Paolo Andreucci joining Ford's regular pilots on the San Remo Rally, looking to gather valuable experience in a factory car on the Italian's home event. Surprisingly, this is an event which Carlos Sainz (pictured right) has not won; although title leader and team-mate Colin McRae has won twice on the Italian Riviera (1996 and 1997 with Subaru). I don't think it will be so easy this year; Ford and Pirelli are very strong on gravel, but despite lots of testing, it's a very different story on asphalt - Citroen and Peugeot come out to play.
After struggling to match the pace of some rivals on the last asphalt rally in Spain in March, the team and tyre partner Pirelli have worked hard to regain ground. Several tests have been held, with the bulk of the driving carried out by Delecour, which including his generally disappointing run on the Deutschland Rally. Carlos Sainz will carry out a one-day test in Spain immediately before the Sanremo reconnaissance begins in an effort to fine tune things before the event. This is surely a sign that the tyre problems continue to be a worry, especially when they thought that the Corsica test would have shown some improvments.
Colin McRae (pictured left on last year's event), who moved level on points with Tommi Mäkinen at the top of the drivers’ points table in New Zealand, won in Sanremo in 1996 and 1997. But he knows that while the Focus RS / Pirelli combination is the strongest combination in the championship on gravel, it is not so on asphalt.
“I know that both our team and Pirelli have made progress on asphalt since the last rally on that surface in Spain,” said 33-year-old McRae. “We’ve been working very hard over the last few months but what we don’t know is how much progress the other teams have made. I’m sure they haven’t been standing still.
“The asphalt in Italy is less abrasive than the next round in Corsica but it’s still harder on tyres than the Catalunya Rally in Spain. The unknown factor in Sanremo is always the weather. If it stays dry there’s no problem. But cold nights in the mountains can leave damp patches and slippery leaves under the trees next morning while heavy rain washes a lot of dirt onto the roads. It’s very unpredictable,” he added.
As for Sainz, this event is one of just three championship rounds that Sainz has yet to win. However, two second and three third places show his prowess on asphalt. “It’s quite a typical asphalt rally, quite simple from a driving aspect, and the special stages are quite slow,” said the 33-year-old Madrid-based driver. “People think the tests in Corsica are slow but they’re faster than those in Italy.
“We’ve reached the point in the season where every rally is crucial. Competition on asphalt rallies is always strong but we need to score points, both in the manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships, on these two hard surface events,” he said.
Francois Delecour was second in Sanremo last year in the Peugeot 206 WRC, a result which shows just how strong the Frenchman is on the black stuff. He is hoping for wet conditions. “Rain would be good for us because I think those conditions would suit the car and the tyres more,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work in the last few months on asphalt and I think we’ll be more competitive than we were earlier in the year on this surface. There are about 60km of new stages but they’re new for everyone so it’s not a big disadvantage.”