Citroen driver Jesus Puras has scored his first victory at FIA World Rally Championship level on the 12th round of this year's series, the Tour de Corse, which finished in Ajaccio this afternoon.
The multiple Spanish champion maintained a steady but fast pace through today's four stages, held in changeable conditions that kept the crews and teams guessing until the very last corner. His victory was also the first for the Xsara WRC in the FIA World Rally Championship.
With Citroen not registered for manufacturers points, Peugeot drivers Gilles Panizzi and Didier Auriol finished second and third respectively to move the French marque into second in the makes series. But in the drivers' championship, Subaru dropped fourth-placed Petter Solberg behind his team-mate Richard Burns to ensure that the Englishman picked up an extra point and moved ahead of Carlos Sainz into third in the series, six points behind joint leaders Colin McRae and Tommi Mäkinen.
Overnight leader Jesus Puras adopted a cautious approach on today's opening stage - too cautious, he'd later admit - and he handed six seconds to Gilles Panizzi as a result. But he responded on the second test by setting fastest time and when the weather conditions worsened for the second run over the pair of tests this afternoon, Puras was able to consolidate an advantage of more than half a minute to score his first FIA World Rally Championship victory.
Jesus Puras said: ''It was so difficult over the final couple of stages but the feeling is unbelievable. When I saw the rain coming I couldn't believe it and I started to get nervous but then I just told myself, 'You have a 30-second lead' and I tried to drive perfectly and not make mistakes. The last stage seemed to last forever - after every corner I wanted it to be the finish but there was always another one! Then eventually I saw the red finish board and I realised then that we've done it. This means a lot to me and it's a fantastic result for Citroen too. Our goal this year was to win one of the four WRC events that we entered and now we've achieved that.''
At Peugeot the 206 WRCs of Gilles Panizzi and Didier Auriol have been reliable today. Panizzi might have had thoughts of victory after he scalped six seconds from Jesus Puras's lead on today's opening stage but once the Spaniard responded on the very next test, the leading 206 WRC driver knew he'd have to settle for second overall and maximum manufacturers' points for Peugeot. His team-mate Didier Auriol started this morning's stages with little more to gain and under no real threat from the Subarus behind, and he measured his pace as the conditions deteriorated to finish in third, securing a maximum manufacturers' points haul for his team.
Gilles Panizzi said: ''I couldn't really push harder over the last couple of stages because it would have been really stupid of me to put the car into the trees when chasing Jesus. It was a difficult day today, though - just keeping the car on the road was pretty difficult when the heavy rain arrived. There was a lot of standing water and it was going sideways even on the straights. I thought after Sanremo that the Citroen might have a small advantage here and that's been proved correct. I'm glad we got the best possible finish for Peugeot, though.''
His team-mate Didier Auriol added: ''If I hadn't had rain when I was sitting on the startline of SS7 yesterday then I think I could have had a fight for second place with Gilles. But I think a victory would have been much more difficult because Jesus and the Citroen were very fast. But our aim here was to score as many manufacturers' points as possible for Peugeot and we've achieved that.''
The Subaru Impreza WRC2001s of Petter Solberg and Richard Burns have been reliable today, with Burns pronouncing himself particularly pleased with revised suspension settings. Markko Martin's car suffered from uneven brakes in the first pair of tests but it ran without troubles thereafter.