Peugeot driver Gilles Panizzi has won the 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rallye Sanremo, which finished in northern Italy this afternoon.
The Frenchman and his navigator, brother Herve, had led from the second stage on Friday morning and despite suffering from a shoulder injury, he consolidated his advantage throughout the remaining tests.
He polished off today's four remaining special stages to win by just over 20 seconds from his team-mate, Marcus Gronholm. The result earned Peugeot another maximum score in the manufacturers' championship to take the team to within a few points of a third successive makes crown, and Gronholm's second overall extended the Finn's lead in the drivers series.
The Peugeot 206 WRCs of Gilles Panizzi, Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns have been reliable. Panizzi overcame any nagging pains from his injured shoulder to tick off Sunday's four remaining stages and win the Rallye Sanremo for the third year in succession. The Frenchman and his navigator, brother Herve, used the split times this morning to ensure that their times matched those of team-mate and closest rival Marcus Gronholm.
Gronholm settled for second overall at the finish, extending his advantage in the drivers world championship. Richard Burns, meanwhile, took a few seconds from third-placed Petter Solberg this morning but in the end, the reigning world champion had to settle for fourth overall, a result that moves him up to second in the drivers' standings.
''I'm delighted,'' said Panizzi. ''This was a difficult victory because my shoulder injury made me quite tired and it's always harder to concentrate in that situation. I had a lot of pressure from Philippe Bugalski in the early stages and then Marcus was always there, too. But the car has been perfect for me - everyone in the whole Peugeot team has done a very good job.''
Team-mate Marcus Gronholm added: ''If it had been wet this morning then maybe I would have had a chance to catch up with Gilles but in the dry, I knew it would be impossible. We're very close to his speed on asphalt but there are just a few places where he still has a little bit more speed. Of course, though, this result is good for me in the championship.''
Peugeot Total Team Director Corrado Provera continued: ''We're totally happy. What Gilles and Herve have done here is quite remarkable, especially with Gilles's injury. The championships are not mathematically guaranteed yet but we would be crazy if we lost them from this position.''
At Subaru meanwhile the remaining Impreza WRC2002 of Petter Solberg was reliable. Solberg started the final four stages knowing that he'd need to push to fend off a charging Richard Burns, but fastest time on the day's opening test was probably enough to ease the pressure slightly. Even in this afternoon's warmer conditions, where Solberg felt his Pirellis might lose out against Burns's Michelins, he was able to fend off the Englishman to secure a podium finish.