Three-time Rallye Sanremo winner Gilles Panizzi has been encouraged by his first taste of the PROTON Satria Neo S2000 at a test on roads similar to those on which round 10 of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge will take place later this week.

Panizzi, who will make his debut for PROTON on the two-day Italian event, used the test to acquaint himself with the car and adjust some initial settings. His team-mate will be former Production Car World Champion Niall McShea, who also took part in the pre-event session.

The test took place in two locations on Sunday and will continue today (Monday), taking in both fast sections as well as slower and more technical sections, which are very representative of the conditions that the drivers will face when they start the rally on Friday. Conditions were dry and warm, enabling the PROTON team to carry out some useful preparation work as they attempt the legendary Rallye Sanremo for the second consecutive year.

Panizzi, who won in Sanremo between 2000 and 2002, started some initial set-up work while concentrating on familiarising himself with PROTON's S2000 challenger for the first time. "The base of the car seems very good," said the French asphalt ace. "It feels really compact, with good dimensions, and the balance of the car is very nice. I can see that there is really a lot of potential there and this has been a very pleasant surprise for me. Now we start work on making the set-up properly suited to me, which is the goal on Monday. I think I'm going to find something that suits me quite quickly."

The 45-year-old Frenchman, who celebrated his birthday with PROTON on Sunday night, will drive in Sanremo to give his detailed feedback on the car with a view to closer collaboration in the future.

"I'm not sure what my pace will be like on the rally as I've not driven for two years," said Panizzi. "We're not going to be able to make drastic adjustments to the car before the start of the rally, so it's something that we're going to have to play ourselves into on the event. But I really hope to use my experience to benefit the PROTON team and develop the car for the future."

Team principal Chris Mellors commented: "Even after just one day together so far, it's clear to see what a driver of Gilles' calibre and experience brings to the team. With the timescale that we are operating on before the rally, we obviously can't expect overnight miracles, but together with Gilles, we are working to put together a solid base for the future that will lead to the consistent improvement that we need, especially on such a competitive surface like asphalt."

McShea, who drove for PROTON on the recent Barum Czech Rally Zlin, was also pleased with the way that the pre-event test went. "We've found a development direction that could be useful for us," said the Northern Irishman. "I'm feeling more and more confident with the car, and from my point of view too it's great to have Gilles in the team. I'm confident that we can have a really good run and I'm feeling more motivated than ever to get the job done."

Rallye Sanremo gets underway on Friday afternoon with the first of 11 all-asphalt special stages, totalling 220 competitive kilometres. The rally finishes on Saturday afternoon. 
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