Italian rally stars dominate the top positions at the end of the opening day of the Rallye Sanremo, round 10 of the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
The classic Italian event, taking place on the mountainous roads around the Riviera town of Sanremo, has become a two-way
battle between the privately-entered Peugeot 207 S2000 of Paolo Andreucci and the works Abarth Grande Punto S2000 of Luca Rossetti – separated by just 1.7 seconds at the overnight halt.
"I'm very happy, everything was fine. I didn't expect to be ahead of everybody before the long stage," said Andreucci at the overnight halt.
"I'm not so happy with the setup of my car, but it was impossible to change anything and be confident, so we had to leave it," said Rossetti. "Hopefully tomorrow we can make a good fight with Paolo."
The first stage was won by Czech star Jan Kopecky, title challenger in the works Skoda Fabia S2000 and looking for his third consecutive victory in this year's championship. Disaster struck halfway through SS2 however, when he broke a wheel and was eliminated from the event.
This passed the initiative to Peugeot UK's series leader Kris Meeke, but the British ace has been unable to capitalise so far and trails in fourth place behind the Italian pacesetters and Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg's defending IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz.
"I learned that Kopeky retired just before the start of SS3, and I lost my concentration and I couldn't find the right rhythm," Meeke admitted.
"Then I had some brake problems both on SS3 and the long final stage, which is sort of my fault as I settle the car by left-foot braking and over 40km the heat builds up. I have to try to get as many points as possible here, they are going to be very important."
The second Benelux Peugeot of Belgian veteran Freddy Loix lies fifth and has closed up fast on the points leader during the course of tonight's fourth stage – the daunting 40km SS4 called Cuori.
The rest of the regular contenders have found themselves locked out of the points positions by an armada of Italian talent, with Renato Travaglia (Peugeot), Piero Longhi (Skoda) and Umberto Scandola (Abarth) keeping well ahead of works Skoda driver Juho Hanninen in 11th, the lone Proton of Guy Wilks in 15th and the Ralliart of Franz Wittmann in 25th.
In the IRC 2WD Cup category, Honda teams blasted back into action with a vengeance. Having been left unrepresented in the previous round, the Rally Principe de Asturias in Oviedo, Spain, the rapid Honda Civic Type R machines have shone in the class on the twisting asphalt.
Another promising Italian, Sandro Sottile racing aboard a turbocharged Peugeot 207, leads from the championship-leading Frenchman Denis Millet.