After his first loop of stages for two years, AUTOSPORT caught up with Proton's new signing Gilles Panizzi, who is making his Intercontinental Rally Challenge debut in Sanremo.
Despite his absence, and his current 20th place in the order, Panizzi's trademark enthusiasm for all things rally remains utterly undimmed.
Q. How does it feel to be back?
Gilles Panizzi: Fantastic. I don't think you remember how much you have missed something until you haven't done it for a while. The rally is a big part of my life, it's very nice to be back and to be back on a rally I enjoy and have so many friends on.
Q. And what about this deal with Proton?
GP: I like it. Yes, there are places where we can work on the car, but for the basic car it is good. You know, we have the wheel at every corner and it's low. This might sound strange, but these are the most important parts of the dynamic, you need nothing ahead of the wheel and nothing behind and you want it almost on the ground.
Q. What can you do on the rally? Can you win?
GP: Me, win? Phew, no, no. I'm not here for the win. I didn't drive for two days, I didn't test the car for more than two days, so, no I'm here to learn with Proton. Win? No. Me? No. I am not Jesus, I cannot walk on the water.
Q. Are you looking to next season?
GP: Yes, for sure. This is why I am here. To learn about the car and the team and to look what we can do for the next season. I'd like this to be the start of a new relationship.
It's nice, we have the big people from Malaysia from Proton here in the service park and it's interesting to meet them and to talk to them about the future and what we can achieve together. For sure, this team and this car can have the very big future together.
Q. And how was the first loop?
GP: OK. Like I say, I learn, learn, learn all the time. I want to know what is the car doing. Why is it like this and not that? This is nice, yes, yes, no – I don't like that so much; we change here, we make an adjust there and then we can see what is the car doing. For me now, I have to make some change, but this is what I expect. This, for me, is the new car.
Q. A difficult start for your teammate Niall McShea...
GP: Yes. I saw him in service, it's a shame, it's tough for him. We've worked well together, he's a nice guy and as a driver this is not the easy situation when you stop so early.