The PROTON R3 Rally Team will include one of the most successful drivers in the history of the Sanremo Rally when it starts the legendary Italian asphalt event next week. Three-time Sanremo winner Gilles Panizzi, who shares this distinction with Miki Biasion and Didier Auriol, will form part of a two-car line-up with Niall McShea on the 10th round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.

The 44-year-old Panizzi has a wealth of experience both in Super 2000, where he has developed one of the most successful cars in the category, and on the World Rally Championship, where he triumphed on seven WRC events between 2000 and 2003. The Frenchman will be co-driven by Freddy Delorme.

Panizzi is joining the PROTON R3 Team in Sanremo in order to give the squad the benefit of his experience on a rally that he has made his own, and to highlight areas where the Satria Neo S2000 can benefit from further development. During the course of the two-day event, Panizzi and PROTON will evaluate the possibility of a longer-term collaboration to help propel the Malaysian manufacturer to the pinnacle of the sport.

Sanremo is characterised by slippery asphalt, changeable weather, and tight corners, which all test power, traction and grip. The event formed part of the World Rally Championship from 1973 to 2003, before being adopted by the IRC from 2006. The challenge however has never changed: making Sanremo one of the most specialised asphalt rallies of them all, where local experts traditionally dominate.

Gilles Panizzi said:
"I never expected to be here: in my head I was done with driving competitively a few years ago. But then the opportunity came up to be part of something completely new and use my experience to benefit a manufacturer trying to come up in the sport. We are both using this event to get to know each other, and if we each feel that the conditions are right at the end of it, then we will look at a longer-term collaboration. I'm considering this rally more as a test than a competitive event: it's been two years since I've driven so it's not realistic to expect to be on the pace straight away and I'm going to be surrounded by drivers who are a lot younger, hungrier and match-fit than me! What I can do is make a few suggestions to develop the car in the long run. I drove the PROTON very briefly in Britain and it felt like a very good car, a good base. Now we have a test, but this is just before the start of the rally, so there will not be the possibility of making any dramatic changes before we begin. We are just going to take each stage as it comes, as it's impossible to predict how we might get on. If we can see an improvement in the car and the times over the course of the rally, and if we get to the finish, then it will be a good achievement. I love coming to Sanremo as it's a fantastic rally that brings back many happy memories but there's certainly going to be no pressure this time, as we have no particular expectations. I always give a hundred percent and I've got a serious job to do but I'm also going to enjoy myself: it's always a huge pleasure to drive a rally car on these roads, particularly when you were not expecting to!"

Niall McShea said:
"It's great to be back in Sanremo. I have done this event twice before and always enjoyed it. And, of course, it's great to be back in the PROTON. The development in the car since I drove it last year and then on the Barum Rally in the summer is just amazing. Being in a team with Gilles Panizzi is obviously something completely new for me, he's a legend, everybody knows about Gilles' record in the World Rally Championship, so I'm hoping I can learn a little bit more from watching the way he sets the car up. It's going to be an incredible weekend."

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
"The opportunity to contest the Sanremo Rally only came up when the Indonesian Rally was cancelled. We put everything together very quickly and we're now looking forward to seeing what we can do against the IRC cars. The opportunity to work with Gilles was something we had first thought about at the beginning of the season. We looked at various possibilities, but it was only when Sanremo came up that we really started to get things moving. What can you say about Gilles Panizzi? He's an exceptional driver and one we're delighted to have on board. We got on very well when he came to see us in Britain this week and we're looking forward to establishing a long-term relationship off the back of Sanremo. Like Gilles says, we're not expecting a huge result here, this is a chance for him to acquaint himself with the car in order to take it forward next season. We know about the development roles Gilles has played in the past, not to mention the seven WRC rounds he's won, and that's why we are very happy to have him involved with PROTON. At the same time, it's great to have Niall in the other Satria Neo S2000. Niall's shown plenty of pace in the testing he's done recently. He's been to Sanremo before and he likes the event, so we're all excited about the rally ahead."

Event data:
Round: 10/12, Intercontinental Rally Challenge
Based: Sanremo, Liguria, Italy
Stages: 11
Liaison distance: 245.60km
Competitive distance: 220.03km
Total distance: 465.63km
Shakedown: Monte Ortigara-San Romolo (Thursday, 1200-1630)
Pre-event press conference: Hotel Lolli (Thursday, 1730)
Post-event press conference: Hotel Lolli (Saturday, 1630)
Time difference: Italy is GMT+1hrs 
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