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1999 SANREMO RALLY

October 11 - 13

Preview

With just three rounds left in this year's calendar, the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship looks set to produce one of the tightest and most compelling finales to a season for many years on 11th - 13th October. Just 13 points now separate the top five drivers. And with a possible 30 points available in Sanremo, Australia and Great Britain, the competition is still wide open. Things are almost as tight in the Manufacturers' Championship, Subaru in second place are just 22 points behind current leaders, Toyota.

Vauxhall plan to compete in Italy with their new Astra rally car

Sanremo is a coastal town located in the North West of Italy, and is host to one of only four all-asphalt events in the rally calendar. The rally is made up of 18 competitive stages that take the teams through a variety of terrain, from the fast hill sections of the Liguria region in Legs one and three, to the notoriously narrow and twisty Acqui Terme sections 160 km's to the North East of Sanremo that make up the second Leg. The nature of this event, like all asphalt rallies, can be dramatically altered by the weather conditions on the day. And with these likely to be unpredictable at this time of year.

Tyres are especially critical on this event and Sanremo will be the first outing for a new type of asphalt tyre developed by Pirelli which Subaru hope will give them a real competitive advantage. The tyres are the culmination of an extensive development programme which has involved an incredible 20 days of tarmac testing since the last asphalt Rally in Corsica, which was held in May this year.

For Ford Martini World Rally Team drivers Colin McRae and Simon Jean-Joseph, the Sanremo Rally offers the final opportunity of the year to display the potential of their Ford Focus rally cars on asphalt The Ford Martini team have completed a highly successful three-day test in southern France at the end of last month, completing more than 600km ofasphalt driving and trying modifications with both Sanremo and the 2000 season in mind.

Malcolm Wilson the Ford Team director said: "It was an excellent three days. Thomas Rådström carried out the driving and we looked at a whole range of issues for next year, including the engine and the transmission."

McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist's hopes of a world title are over but that has done nothing to dissuade the 31-year-old Scottish driver, twice a winner of the rally, from the belief that his Focus World Rally Car can be a major contender in Italy.

Hyundai's press release previewing the rally

Kelvin Fagan - kelvinf@carenthusiast.co.uk


Rally report

The first day's action, staged on the twisty roads high in the mountains behind Sanremo, set a scorching pace, with no fewer than five drivers split by one second after three stages and 30 competitive miles. Didier Auriol (Toyota Corolla WRC) reflected on a day of close-fought action:

"The competition is very close and we are neck and neck with Tommi and ahead of our other series’ rivals, which as far as the Championship is concerned, is very important. Tomorrow’s stages are narrower and for me not so nice, but we will be pushing hard because it is close and we have everything to fight for."

Makinen drove brilliantly to catch the leading Peugeots

And fight he did! However, the regular WRC drivers were overcome by Peugeot - the acknowledged tarmac specialists. One has to wonder whether it is fair that Peugeot can steal the limelight from the top manufacturers by seemingly spending all their development money on competing for the tarmac rallies only... Hopefully they will prove me wrong by competing for the whole season in 2000. They could fill Toyota's place quite convincingly.

By the end of day two, two Peugeots were still leading, but a hard-charging Tommi Makinen was determined to catch them. Auriol was not far behind. Colin McRae crashed out heavily, writing the Ford Focus WRC off in his attempt to catch up with the rest of the rally. His arch-rival, Carlos Sainz had also crashed heavily before this, wrapping his Corolla around a tree. We have heard rumours from Italy that the car was stripped of every mechanical component by a gang of thieves...

The Peugeots were blindingly quick to begin with

On the final day of racing the heavens opened, turning the dusty, but friendly tarmacadam into a skating rink. Drivers struggled and tyre choice became the deciding factor. The Peugeot drivers suffered in the changed conditions. Makinen was not happy with his tyre choice but managed to sprint into the lead - the long wheelbase Carisma GT proving to be more than capable in the worsening conditions.

Panizzi managed to hang onto second place for the Peugeot team. Didier Auriol was in third, only 24 seconds behind, but he drove cautiously towards the end of the rally to ensure that he came away with points - unlike his team mate! Mitsubishi's second driver, Loix managed a respectable fourth, and an unknown - Andrea Aghini followed him home in his Toyota Corolla WRC. Juha Kankkunen took the last point of the rally, complaining about the Subaru's lack of competitiveness in the dry. I don't think he will have that problem in the UK at the last rally! However, how will they fare out in Australia?

S.O' - shane@carenthusiast.co.uk


Click here to view the championship standings to date.
SANREMO RESULTS
Position
Driver/Co-driver
Car
1 Tommi Mäkinen / Risto Mannisenmaki Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V
2 Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi Peugeot 206 WRC
3 Didier Auriol / Denis Giraudet Toyota Corolla WRC
4 Freddy Loix / Sven Smeets Mitsubishi Carisma GT
5 Andrea Aghini / Loris Roggia Toyota Corolla WRC
6 Juha Kankkunen / Juha Repo Subaru Impreza WRC 99
China Rally Rally Australia

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