Peugeot driver Gilles Panizzi has scored a dominant victory on the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rallye Catalunya-Costa Brava, which finished in Spain today.
The Frenchman and his navigator, brother Hervé, eventually finished 37.3 seconds clear of their team-mates Richard Burns/Robert Reid after leading from the first stage on Friday morning.
Burns resisted the temptation to try and close on his fellow 206 WRC driver, but the world champion was quick enough to fend off third-placed Philippe Bugalski anyway.
Today's six stages again brought good weather but little drama among the top crews. Sebastien Loeb crashed out on this morning's second stage, gifting fourth place to Marcus Grönholm and handing the injured Colin McRae a hard-earned point for sixth overall.
The Peugeot 206 WRCs of Gilles Panizzi, Richard Burns and Marcus Grönholm have been reliable today.
Panizzi matched Richard Burns to the tenth of a second on today's opening stage, then controlled his pace thereafter to secure his second WRC win in two events by a comfortable 37-second margin. In a display of unshakable confidence, the Frenchman even had time to turn a half-spin into doughnuts for the huge crowds at the bridge on the Villadrau test this morning.
Burns, meanwhile, inched further clear of Philippe Bugalski to make his second position secure and guarantee Peugeot's third maximum score in a row in the manufacturers' championship. The third 206 WRC driver Marcus Grönholm had to fend up Petter Solberg but the 2000 world champion soon halted the Norwegian's charge and consolidated his fifth position. That became fourth when Sebastien Loeb crashed out, so Grönholm now leads the drivers championship by one point from Panizzi. Meanwhile, Peugeot's fourth regular driver Harri Rovanperä secured seventh overall on the final stage, driving a 206 WRC run by private team Bozian.
Gilles Panizzi said: ''I'm really pleased. It's a great result for me, Hervé and the whole Peugeot team. This was an easier event to drive than Corsica because the conditions were more consistent, but the actual competition was just the same. I had good confidence this morning and we had a good advantage on the stage that had the bridge, so when I went wide I thought I would grab the handbrake and please the crowds. They went crazy! It's good to win on asphalt again but now I want the chance to gain more experience and speed on loose surfaces.''
Team-mate Richard Burns continued: ''I had no real chance to catch Gilles today, but I'm reasonably happy with second. I'm still getting used to the car - in some ways, it was easier to be on the pace here than it was in Corsica. I'm pleased at how the start of the season's going because we're scoring points, and now we move to gravel. I won't have too much testing time before Cyprus but hopefully the learning curve won't be quite as steep as it was around Monte Carlo time.''
Marcus Grönholm added: ''I haven't had the same level of confidence here that I had in Corsica. I think the problem has been the corner cutting - there's far more of that on this event but about 60 percent of the cuts in my notes have been wrong. So every time I come to a corner I have to think, or even guess, if the note is actually right or not. But at least we've taken some points.''