Early January is said to be one of the most depressing times of the year, but not for a World Rally Championship fan.
With just a matter of weeks to go until the new season begins, the teams and drivers are pounding round southern France clocking vital pre Monte Carlo Rally miles. It’s tremendously exciting – particularly if a driver has moved teams over the off-season!
This image from the Girardo & Co. Archive depicts that anticipation perfectly. Clearly it’s a Škoda Fabia WRC, but who’s driving? That’s another fascinating aspect about testing – the plain, white liveries. Yes please.
In this instance, we’re looking at 2006. While the Fabia was often sporting a white and green paint job with flashes of red, this particular one would wear the distinctive blue, yellow and red of Red Bull once it took the start of the Monte.
So to go back to the earlier question, who is actually driving? As if to prove the suspense, that’s the exact question our very own Eliot Barnard asked when I sent him this image for the picture of the week graphic to be made.
The answer? One Gilles Panizzi – who sought refuge in the Red Bull Škoda project after Mitsubishi pulled the plug on its WRC program at the end of 2005.
Do you know who else did? A certain Harri Rovanperä – a driver more than familiar with sharing a car with Mr Panizzi.
Rovanperä and Panizzi were never quite a WRC double act, but they might as well have been. Because wherever one of them went, the other seemed to eventually follow.
First, and most memorably, it was at Peugeot. Panizzi was there from the start having driven the much-loved 306 Maxi before the 206 WRC was born, but Rovanperä – ousted from his Seat drive for 2000 – joined in 2001 to share the third points-scoring car with Panizzi under the guidance of the late Corrado Provera.
In an era where surface specialists were still alive, Panizzi was the Tarmac titan while Rovanperä was the gravel guy. This system lasted for three years until Panizzi left for Mitsubishi in 2004, leaving Freddy Loix and Cédric Robert to take the asphalt rounds in the new 307 WRC.
But with the signing of Markko Märtin from Ford, Rovanperä was on the move and found himself team-mates with… you guessed it, Panizzi!
The 2006 season would prove to be the last of both of their WRC careers. Panizzi clocked in two 10th place finishes on his two starts (Monte and Spain) while Rovanperä peaked with ninth at the season finale in Wales.
Neither they, or Škoda, would be involved in the pre-season testing hype again.