Peugeot's Gilles Panizzi has claimed the fourth world championship rally win of his career on the Tour de Corse, the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, which finished in Corsica today.
The Frenchman and his navigator, brother Hervé, finished more than 40 seconds clear of team-mates Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen as their Peugeot team celebrated a one-two-three result. Reigning world champion Richard Burns and navigator Robert Reid completed the formation finish.
Sunday's final four stages were held on predominantly dry conditions in contrast to the rain and mist of yesterday [Saturday]. But there was still plenty of late drama on the mountain roads east of Ajaccio. Philippe Bugalski claimed fourth overall in his privately-entered Citroen, but only after Ford's Colin McRae crashed heavily in the penultimate stage.
The 1995 world champion was taken to hospital suffering from concussion and a suspected broken finger on a bad afternoon for Ford - Carlos Sainz lost out to a charging Petter Solberg
in the closing stages too.
All three Peugeot 206 WRCs continued to suffer from brake fade today, but that aside, the cars of Gilles Panizzi, Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns ran without major mechanical problems.
Panizzi consolidated his overnight lead on this morning's opening stages to stifle any possibility of a late charge from either of his team-mates. But then Colin McRae's penultimate stage accident forced the Frenchman to accept a 'notional' time, given by the event stewards. He used Peugeot's split time boards in the last test to make sure that even if he was given the slowest time possible, he'd still finish ahead of Marcus Grönholm and claim his fourth world championship rally win. He had more than 40 seconds in hand at the finish.
Grönholm was more concerned with the progress of Richard Burns, since a slightly softer tyre had given the Englishman enough extra speed to narrow the gap between the pair in this morning's stages. But on the return visit to the tests this afternoon, Grönholm fought back by setting fastest time in the day's penultimate test. He eventually finished second, around 12 seconds clear of the reigning world champion.
Gilles Panizzi said: ''I'm really happy. This is the best victory of my career because we've led right from the start and we've been quick in wet and dry conditions. Apart from the small brake problem we've had such a good set-up that I've been able to attack everywhere. I can't wait for Catalunya now!''
His team-mate Marcus Grönholm added: ''The main aim for me today was to make sure that I got second, because it's very useful for my world championship situation. But it's an amazing rally for Peugeot - to get the top three positions like this is a great result.''