Gilles Panizzi made his debut with the PROTON R3 Rally Team on this week's Rallye Sanremo, bringing the Satria Neo S2000 to the finish of the classic Italian event, the 10th round of this year's Intercontinental Rally Challenge.

Panizzi joined the team earlier this month, with PROTON only deciding to contest the asphalt event three weeks ago after Rally Indonesia was cancelled. The Frenchman's return to competition after a two-year lay-off was always taken with an eye to the future. Having tested the Satria Neo S2000 for two days ahead of Rallye Sanremo, Panizzi always talked of the event itself - one which he has won three times before - as being an extension to the test. Panizzi spent the 11 stages learning more and more about the PROTON on roads he knows well.

Panizzi ended the event in 20th position (which would have been 19th had it not been for a minute's penalty for a timing error) but he stressed that this rally was not about the result, it was about the value of the seat time for him to get to know the Satria. With that done, the seven-time world rally winner and the British-based PROTON R3 Rally Team look ahead to the future.

Niall McShea was driving the sister Satria to Panizzi's car in Sanremo. Running with the team for the second IRC event in succession, the power steering pump in McShea's car seized ahead of SS1. The team has already begun a detailed analysis into the issue.

Gilles Panizzi said:
"I said before I started this event that I wanted to drive and to get to feel with the car. I have done that. This was not the competition for me, really, this was a longer time to test the car. We have made some changes from the start of the event and it felt better and better for me. This car has been born well, it's nice to drive, it has a nice balance and a good feeling. I feel I would like to be involved with the team and with the car. Under the right conditions, we can have a good future together for PROTON and Panizzi. After some time away from driving, it took me a while to get back into the rhythm of the rally. When Niall stopped so early, it was also difficult. We had to make sure we make the finish with one car, and our car ran without any technical problems. So, now, the time is here to sit down and talk about what we can do. This was a test event for us, it was not an event to judge the car or the possible new partnership. We know each other better now and we can talk more for the future."

Niall McShea said:
"As a driver, I don't think there can be anything more disappointing than not getting to the first stage, it was a terrible feeling. This was a big event for me, I really wanted to make it all happen in Italy. My co-driver and I had worked really hard in the recce and we had complete confidence in the notes and everything, the test before the event had gone well; okay, it had been in the dry and the event started in mixed conditions, but we were ready to adapt the car to that. It's a real shame, the car has huge potential. It was great to get the opportunity to work with Gilles in the team, though - he does have a lot of good ideas which can really take things forward."

Chris Mellors (team principal) said:
"There's no getting away from the fact that this was a tough event for the team and for me on a personal level; I had to leave before the rally had begun for family reasons. Gilles achieved what he set out to, he drove the car for two days in what was, essentially, an extended test session. It was great to have him in the car and good for us to hear his views. He has given us a new direction for the car and we're ready to sit down and talk about the future. What was a real shame was that Niall didn't get into the event. His pre-event test had gone really well and he was full of confidence. Obviously, once we were down to one car, there was even more pressure on Gilles to get to the finish. Sanremo was not an event we were expecting to compete on, it was only slotted in after Indonesia was cancelled three weeks earlier, but we came here with a definite agenda for Gilles and we've gathered very valuable information for the future. " 
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