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Basso on top after dramatic Sanremo opener

Rally Sanremo - Day 1


By Franck Drui

25 September 2010 - 00:48
Basso on top after dramatic Sanremo (...)

Giandomencio Basso has completed the opening day of Rallye Sanremo with a lead of 5.2 seconds in his Abarth Grande Punto Super 2000 after the battle for victory on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge qualifier was turned on its head on the final 44-kilometre Ronde stage.

Basso started the monster test in fourth overall, 11.1s off the lead. But after going 15.5s faster than any of his rivals through the stage, which was held in drying conditions following earlier rain, the 37-year-old will hold the advantage heading into Saturday’s final five stages.

While Basso’s performance behind the wheel of the latest-specification Punto, which features a wider track suspension, was sensational, his decision to use a slick tyre, albeit with ’cuts’ to provide added grip, clearly gave him the edge over erstwhile leader Paolo Andreucci.

The double Italian rally champion moved ahead of Kris Meeke on stage four but had no answer to Basso’s pace through Ronde thanks to his decision to opt for an intermediate tyre, which was less suited to the drying mountain roads overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, Andreucci’s earlier speed enabled him to complete day one in second overall, 12.3s ahead of Luca Rossetti, in the second works-assisted Grande Punto.

Meeke, driving a Peugeot UK 207, had moved to the top of the leaderboard by going quickest on the day’s first stage. He was still leading after stage three but fell behind Andreucci after deciding to replace his front soft compound tyres with two hard compound versions, which the Northern Irishman said had dramatically affected the balance of his 207 and resulted in several lurid slides exiting tight corners.

Starting Friday’s final stage 7.8s off the lead, Meeke appeared to be on course to achieve his pre-rally aim of being within 20 seconds of the overall lead heading into day two of the rally, only to spin on Ronde and lose approximately 25 seconds. He completed the test with his car sporting damage to the rear-left corner, after it swiped a low wall, and with his hopes of a second consecutive Sanremo win seemingly in tatters. "It’s not over but to win these rallies you can’t afford to make mistakes like that," he said at the stage finish.

IRC title leader Juho Hanninen started Friday’s final stage in third place following an impressive showing in his Skoda Motorsport Fabia S2000. Although he couldn’t hold on through Ronde after reporting his choice of intermediate tyres was too conservative for drying surface, he will begin day two with a sizeable margin over team-mate and title rival Jan Kopecky, who is a distant eighth overall. The Czech admitted to being too cautious through the early stages and has yet to show the level of pace that has made him such a force on asphalt rallies this season.

Bryan Bouffier is sixth overnight in his 207 and was relieved to have completed the Ronde stage after admitting to his dislike of driving in the dark. Freddy Loix, who spent the first two loops of stages bemoaning his lowly start position of 13th in his factory Skoda, is seventh. The Belgian has won on all three of his IRC appearances so far this season but faces a tall order to climb the leaderboard after he was saddled with a 10-second penalty for entering the day’s penultimate service halt 60 seconds late. The top seven drivers from Basso to Loix are covered by one minute, thereby underlining the close competition in the IRC.

Bruno Magalhaes, who is returning to IRC action after skipping last month’s Barum Czech Rally Zlin, is 11th overall in his Peugeot Sport Portugal 207. Guy Wilks, at the wheel of his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia, is 12th, with rising star Thierry Neuville 14th in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207.

It was a disappointing start to the event for Niall McShea, whose PROTON Satria Neo S2000 ground to a halt on the road section heading to stage one with engine failure. However, team-mate Gilles Panizzi, a three-time winner in Sanremo, is 23rd on his first appearance for the Malaysian manufacturer.

Andreas Mikkelsen was another early casualty after he slid off the road seven kilometres into the first stage, where his M-Sport Ford Fiesta became stuck on a slope. Umberto Scandola crashed his similar car on stage five while running 10th overall.

Local hero Sandro Sottile tops the IRC 2WD Cup standings in his Honda Civic Type-R after making the most of his knowledge of the challenging roads.

Saturday’s leg features 111.42 competitive kilometres and gets underway at 07:50hrs local time. The first car is due to reach the finish in Sanremo at 15:00hrs.

Giandomenico Basso (Italy), Abarth Grande Punto S2000, first overall: "The final stage was very slippery but the car was working very well. I was not completely satisfied with how I drove on the last part of the stage but I am happy to be leading although I know there is still a long way to go."

Paolo Andreucci (Italy), Peugeot 207 S2000, second overall: "It’s been a good day with no problems. The car and the tyres have been very good today but we were not quick enough on the long stage. But it’s still looking good for the Italian championship and that is very important."

Luca Rossetti (Italy), Abarth Grande Punto S2000, third overall: "We lost some time with some bad tyre choices earlier in the rally and it is difficult to make up that sort of time when the competition is so close. Tomorrow is another difficult day."

Overall standings after Day 1:

01 Basso Giandomenico / Dotta Mitia Fiat Grande Punto S2000 1h15m50.6s
02 Andreucci Paolo / Andreussi Anna Peugeot 207 S2000 +5.2s
03 Rossetti Luca / Chiarcossi Matteo Fiat Grande Punto S2000 +17.5s
04 Meeke Kris / Nagle Paul Peugeot 207 S2000 +46.9s
05 Hänninen Juho / Markkula Mikko Škoda Fabia S2000 +49.1s
06 Bouffier Bryan / Panseri Xavier Peugeot 207 S2000 +56.4s
07 Loix Freddy / Miclotte Fréderic Škoda Fabia S2000 +58.2s
08 Kopecký Jan / Starý Petr Škoda Fabia S2000 +1m28.2s
09 Cunico Gianfranco / Pollet Rudy Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m33.3s
10 Perico Alessandro / Carrara Fabrizio Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m33.8s
11 Magalhaes Bruno / Magalhaes Carlos Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m37.5s
12 Wilks Guy / Pugh Phil Škoda Fabia S2000 +1m51.0s
13 Longhi Piero / Baggio Lucio Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m52.5s
14 Neuville Thierry / Klinger Nicolas Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m04.4s
15 Travaglia Renato / Granai Lorenzo Fiat Grande Punto S2000 +2m11.1s

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