Gronholm fights for Monte podium

From Peugeot Press [ 20/01/2002 ].
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Peugeot 206 WRC driver Marcus Grönholm is battling for a podium finish on the opening round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Rallye Monte Carlo, which continued today. Today's six stages threw up the Rallye Monte Carlo's famous blend of dry asphalt, frost, damp and occasionally, sheet ice. Grönholm attacked this morning, though, posting second fastest time in the day's second test to move clear of McRae and into third overall. Although Carlos Sainz moved ahead of both this evening, Marcus continued to swap seconds with the Spaniard and they'll enter tomorrow's final batch of tests separated by just four seconds.

Marcus said: “I'm just trying to keep a consistent speed and not get too excited or make a mistake. Conditions in Monte Carlo are so hard to predict that it's very difficult to really charge – you have to think all the time about what will come at the next corner. I was a bit too cautious, perhaps, on some of the really slippery conditions this afternoon and that allowed Colin to get back ahead of me but we're very close. It might come down to who keeps the best concentration, because even a half-spin or a stall could make the difference. My aim is to stay at this speed and reach the finish in the points.”

Reigning world champion Richard Burns continues to get acclimatized to his 206 WRC – he's still short of experience in the car on dry asphalt. But despite playing with suspension settings and the car's anti-roll bar, the Briton and his co-driver Robert Reid moved further towards the points positions today. They finished this evening's last stage in seventh overall.

Richard said: “It's been a difficult day. I have a great feeling with the car but in the wet, I still don't have total confidence about what it will do mid-corner. In narrow sections I've had to brake, turn and then accelerate. But we're making progress and trying some options to see if that improves things. It might be something that we won't find out until after this rally, so we just have to concentrate on not making any mistakes tomorrow and hopefully getting a point or two.”

The third 206 WRC driver, Gilles Panizzi, has charged in all of today's stages after his problems yesterday. The 2001 Sanremo winner felt that the reverse running order didn't help him, but he still forced his way past drivers like François Delecour and Toni Gardemeister to move well inside into top ten.

Gilles said: “I've been much happier with the car today. We got the suspension settings right and I've been able to push harder as a result. Unfortunately because of the new rules we've had to run second on the road today, and I think in some of the narrower sections there's only one real line. In places where the road has been damp, the guys running 10 or 15 cars later would have a drier road and more grip. But we'll keep trying as hard as possible. The one thing about the Monte is that anything can still happen.”

There's still plenty of scope for drama in the mountains above Monaco tomorrow. Crews must tackle a pair of stages twice, totaling almost 100km, before the winners will be able to spray the first victory champagne of the 2002 season.