The final stage of the San Remo rally was stopped by FIA safety delegate Jacek Bartos after huge numbers of spectators decended on the final leg of the event.

The last two stages used the same piece of road twice (once in each direction), with the first stage already halted after Markko Martin crashed his Toyota injuring three spectators - apparently not seriously.

Therefore only five competitive times were set in the final stage - none of which could upset the status quo. This handed Panizzi the rally win and left Gronholm extending his championship lead. Peugeot now also head the Manufacturers championship after their one - two finish.

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Panizzi took the lead from the second stage of the rally and, with the cancellation of competitive running on crowd safety grounds occurring in both stages of today's final leg, his already significant lead was never attacked. He therefore won his second rally in succession from teammate Delecour.

The first stage of the morning (SS16) had to be stopped after Markko Martin's Toyota went straight on at a corner, injuring two spectators - one suffered a broken hand, the other pelvic contusion and Markko himself suffered minor glass injuries.

The final stage of the morning was to be run over the same section of track - in the opposite direction. However, after just five cars had posted competitive times the stage was stopped over concerns for the huge crowds safety.

Winner Panizzi said, "These two victories have been very good for Herve (his co-driver and brother) and I. All of the drivers - Francois, Richard Burns (retired on leg two following an accident) and Tommi Makinen - have been pushing very hard. But I started well, made some time in the mixed conditions on the first day and then controlled the rally. It's another good result for Peugeot and now we are leading the manufacturers championship, and I'm pleased to have played my part in that."

With his performance for the Peugeot team this year Panizzi hopes he has proven his worth and that he is deserving of a full time drive for the team in the future.

Francois Delecour had to settle for second after being unable to recover time lost on the very first stage of the Rally when his 206's engine suffered a loss of power. "I lost a few seconds at the beginning and after, it was difficult to catch Gilles because we are at the same level. And I did not want to take too many risks. It is a good result for Peugeot," said the Frenchman.

Makinen would benefit from Gronholm's final leg problems to assure him of third place overall, although the Peugeot's were always out of reach. "It is nice to be on the podium, I hardly remembered how it was. This rally had already been very good for me last year. We have been working very hard. It was difficult on the first day and second and third day were much better. But I was never 100 % happy."

After having won the four previous World Championships Makinen refused to give up on the hope that he can retain his title, despite being seventeen points behind Gronholm, he said "Mathematically I can still win the Championship but it seems to be very difficult, unless Peugeot retires in the two next rallies ! The next event is Australia, which has always been very good for us. Maybe there is a little chance !"

Unfortunately for Makinen the upturn in performance seems to have come too late.

Marcus Gronholm extended his lead at the top of the driver's standings by three points, but the final leg was not without its hazards for the 206 driver. He suffered a puncture and broken pull rod on SS16 as he explained, "I got my braking wrong and knocked the right rear wheel out of line. I then went off again and hit the front left corner, and I thought it was all over. I couldn't fix the problem completely between the stages but I made some adjustments and it was good enough."

The Finn remains confident that he can deliver in the remaining events, which will be run on his more favoured gravel surface but warned " I know it will be a hard fight."

Carlos Sainz finished fifth overall and now ties with Colin McRae for third in the championship - six points behind Gronholm. ''I was frustrated not to be able to mount a stronger challenge but the points we've gained here could prove to be vital at the end of the season."

Despite these regrets, having lost championships on the final day of the last round before, he knows better than anyone that the title is still up for graps, "Both championships are wide open and I'm sure we'll be battling for the top positions again on the final two rounds. There's still much left to fight for," he said.

McRae, still suffering from his Corsican injuries, was one of the few top drivers to be happy with his finish, despite also losing ground to Gronholm; he said, "It's the hardest point I've ever scored and possibly the most satisfying."

The Scotsman still knows that the ultimate goal in Rallying could still be his, regardless of the setbacks this year. His immediate concern being his physical condition ''I look forward to working on my fitness for the next round in Australia. Prior to this rally I've been able to do nothing except lie on my back,'' he said.

Subaru Impreza driver Simon Jean-Joseph had a solid seventh place today and had shown flashes of speed throughout the event - winning two stages yesterday, he said "I was very happy to have been so competitive yesterday and today it was a shame that we couldn't have done more. I would have liked to have done more testing before this event, to get more experience on the dry tarmac but I've enjoyed my driving in the Subaru and It's good to get another point for the team."

Freddy Loix (eighth overall) was never really able to get to grips with the set-up of his Mitsubishi but felt the car would have been better today, as he explained. "We changed the suspension and front diff mapping last night and the car was much better."

Loix would not have the chance to exploit the change and admitted that the damage had been done yesterday when he had suffered handling problems "We lost everything with the hard compound tyres yesterday which I had to take because we were wearing tyres so much," he revealed.

Winner of the two wheel-drive category was Italian Renato Travaglia (Peugeot 306 Maxi), who performed admirably throughout the event - regularly placed inside the top ten. He would finish eleventh overall in his home event.

As a result of the non-competitive runs today no changes were made in the Group N positions, resulting in a win for Gianluigi Galli over countryman Alex Fiorio. The win was Galli's third successive victory on his home round of the World Championship, and came after a thrilling two day battle with Fiorio.

Galli said, ''It's a shame we didn't drive more today because it was a good battle with Alex, but I am very pleased to win again after such a difficult fight. The car has been really good."

Fiorio was satisfied with his own performance, saying, "We showed that we can be fast I think and the Mitsubishi is a fantastic car. I'm disappointed not to win of course, but second is not a bad result."

The next round of the World Rally Championship will be the Rally Australia where the Peugeot teammates will be looking to extend the present two-point gap in the manufacturers championship to Ford. Gronholm will also naturally be focused on keeping his championship lead intact heading into the final round - the Rally of Great Britain.