Rallye Monte Carlo final report

From Chris Biewer [ 20/01/2002 ].
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In strong contrast to previous Rallye Monte Carlos, all works Peugeot 206 WRCars reached the finish line of the 2002 Rallye Monte Carlo without major reliability dramas. But it still was an event with mixed feelings for the reigning double WRChampions. The main issue however appears to be that Peugeot expected the Rallye Monte Carlo to not quite to be as mild and the cars were simply set up for more low grip slippy and icy conditions. Already the start of the first leg brought up bad memories when in parc fermé Gilles Panizzi’s car wouldn’t fire up. This was eventually traced to a hydraulic leak that could easily be fixed, however resulted in a 2m10s time penalty even before the first stage times came in!

Fortunately this was to be the only reliability problem any of the Peugeots was to develop throughout the event, however it didn’t help motivation for local boy Gilles. He added a spin in SS3 to his time account. After leg1 Gilles was only 17th overall, also he eventually could pull himself together for a few more promising stage times and Gilles moved up to 7th overall, indeed making up 10 positions in 10 stages! However both Gilles and his team boss were surprisingly honest that spirits were dented at least in leg1. Gilles: “It’s been quite a frustrating rally for me. We got the wrong suspension settings and we made some bad tyre choices as well.” While Corrado Provera confirmed disappointment: “After the time penalty he (Gilles) wasn’t fully concentrated and needed a lot of time to find his speed again.”

A more positive surprise came from 2000 World Champion Marcus Grönholm. He has close to nill experience of the event and makes no secret that the Monte with its unpredictable road conditions is his least favourite event of the calendar. That didn’t stop Marcus to take a challenge to the Fords and even post a couple of 2nd fastest stage times. Marcus was always close to a podium place. However he had eventually to settle for 5th thanks to a wrong tyre choice on the last leg when the roads were less icy than expected. Marcus: “I have at times been driving too carefully. On the 3rd and last leg I chose the wrong tyres. I decided on soft tyres to be on the safe side, but the tarmac dryed up quicker than expected and I lost time.” Still, his challenge gave Corrado more reason for a smile: “Marcus and Timo have done a very good job and taken some points - which was our target for this rally.”

For the reigning World Champion driver, Richard Burns, this event was like going back to school. It was clearly showing that after his contractual mess with Subaru, Richard had less time to get accustomed to his new machine than most of his team-changing colleagues did. In fact the Rallye Monte Carlo turned into nothing but a test exercise for Richard. He played around with settings and tried different components throughout the event to learn as much as possible as quick as possible. Richard eventually finished 8th even still behind Gilles Panizzi despite Gilles’ time penalty. Not that Richard didn’t have his early scare, he went off in a fast stretch on SS1 when he cut a corner too much. It was quite a spectacular off but damage was limited in a lucky way as Richard landed right on a little gravel track leading straight back onto the stage, facing in the right direction as well! Nevertheless, Corrado Provera was full of praise for his new driver: “Richard learns quick. We are pleased with the work Richard and Robert have done to learn the car.” Richard, who is not a big fan of the Rallye Monte Carlo, already said after leg2: “We keep testing different set ups. Especially on the slippy and difficult stages of this rally it feels as if the car drives me - not vice versa.”

After all that, Peugeot still finds themselves in 3rd position of the 2002 manufacturer WRChampionship after the first round.

There were a couple of non-full works 206 entries that we don’t want to ignore either. Harri Rovanperä drove the semi works car, for the first time run by Bozian rather than Grifone and for the first time with the silver replaced by a lovely distinct blue Total colour scheme. Harri was on the edge of the top 10 early on, but all the good looks didn’t stop Harri to knock his car on a rock and damage the steering bad enough to be stranded half way through SS7. Meanwhile Bruno Thiry had a drama free event in the Bastos 206 WRC and only narrowly missed a top 10 place. His smooth run to 11th overall actually had Bruno ahead of established works drivers such as Markko Märtin, Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae.

But lets have the last word for Richard Burns again. What are his impressions of his first drive in the World Championship winning 206 WRC? “It is not a fantastic result, but I still have to get used to the car. I’m Still not totally comfortable with the 206 mid-corner - I haven’t really got enough confidence to commit the throttle as early as I should. But that should come in time, and we’ll be working very hard in the coming weeks to find some settings that suit me better. I already know the car’s good enough, though - that is not an issue. It would be nice to have points but it’s not a disaster - a disaster would have been retirement on the opening day without the chance to learn anything.”