Could Subaru or Ford beat the French teams on the asphalt course of next week’s San Remo Rally, or will Peugeot’s tar road specialist Gilles Panizzi win the event for the fourth in a row?

Could Subaru or Ford beat the French teams on the asphalt course of next week’s San Remo Rally, or will Peugeot’s tar road specialist Gilles Panizzi win the event for the fourth in a row?

With three rounds of the World Rally Championship left in the season, the performances of Markko Martin and Petter Solberg in Germany show that Ford and Subaru are now able to compete at the same level as frontrunners Peugeot and Citroën.

Peugeot is still considered to be the team to beat, because the 206 WRC is one of the most competitive cars on asphalt and Panizzi will be driving one when the event starts on October 1.

Panizzi has won the past three San Remo events and is looking forward to this rally to make up for a disappointing finish in Germany. The next three rallies should suit the French driver and Panizzi will be crucial to Peugeot’s hopes of trouncing Citroën in the Constructors' Championship.

Even though Marcus Gronholm was considered for a long time to be a gravel specialist, he has proved on many occasions that he has the ability to be competitive on asphalt. Second last year in San Remo, the Finn is looking to duplicate this performance in 2003.

For team-mate Richard Burns, San Remo is probably one of the most difficult rallies of the season. The Briton, who has never been able to succeed in the Italian event, was fourth in 2002 but retired in the previous editions of the race. His target will be to score more points to stay in the lead of the championship.

Citroën will rely primarily on Sebastien Loeb next week. The Frenchman won the first two asphalt rallies of the season (Monte-Carlo and Germany) and knows that the next three rounds of the championship will be crucial for him if he wants to win the title. Loeb didn't participate in San Remo last year, but finished second in 2001.

Loeb’s team-mate Colin McRae won twice in Italy (1996 and 1997). Now that his contract with Citroën hasn't been renewed, a win - or at least a podium finish - would confirm that he still has what it takes to succeed in the WRC.

Veteran Carlos Sainz has never been able to win in Italy, but has scored some podium finishes there in the past. Now second in the championship, the Spaniard needs to score as many points as possible if he wants to stay in front of the young generation that includes Sebastien Loeb and Petter Solberg.

Ford Focus WRC 03 driver Markko Martin set many fastest stage times in Germany, but couldn't get a good result because of gearbox problems. Fifth in the San Remo last year, the Estonian knows that his new Focus has the potential to achieve a much better result.

Martin’s team-mate, Francois Duval, was at the wheel of a Ford Puma last year and finished the Italian event in 20th place. The Belgian has been having a difficult season, but he was competitive in Germany on asphalt.

Cyprus and Australian Rally winner Petter Solberg has shown good form in his Subaru Impreza WRC – at least on gravel, this year. The Norwegian finished third in San Remo last year and should be able to repeat his performance this year.

Tommi Makinen feels no pressure after announcing that he will retire at the end of this season. The Finn won San Remo in 1998 and 1999 and will be aiming for another podium finish.

Skoda has continued development of the new Fabia rally car and the team is making progress. The two Skodas were able to reach the finish in Australia, which is already an improvement compared to the results in the previous events.

Veteran Didier Auriol knows San Remo very well, winning three times the race (1990, 1991 and 1994). His last participation was in 2001, where he finished in third place.

Original article from Car