Gilles Panizzi has won the Catalunya Rally for the second year running, after an emotional and action-packed final day. The Frenchman's victory marks his last appearance for the Peugeot factory team. Reigning World Champion Marcus Gronholm has...
Gilles Panizzi has won the Catalunya Rally for the second year running, after an emotional and action-packed final day. The Frenchman's victory marks his last appearance for the Peugeot factory team.
Reigning World Champion Marcus Gronholm has finished sixth, but Richard Burns was forced to retire after going off the road on SS19.
Gilles was masterly through the wet conditions of the final day to win by 13 seconds, having started the last leg in third place. On SS19 he moved up to second place, and a fastest time on the final stage enabled him to take a memorable victory.
The Frenchman said: "This was a fantastic win, but also a special surprise for me. I was concentrating mostly on defending my second place, as the rain made conditions very unpredictable. I knew I had made a good tyre choice for the final loop of stages, but I wasn't sure what everybody else had done. Then I had to wait and see what time Sebastien had set on the final stage to know if I had won or not! The car and the team have been fantastic, and I want to thank everybody who has helped me to achieve so much with Peugeot over the years. It's a fantastic feeling after a season which hasn't always been easy for me."
Marcus Gronholm made the same tyre choice as Gilles for the final loop of stages, with Michelin's cut intermediates working perfectly in the challenging conditions. Having started today's leg in eighth place, Marcus moved up to seventh on SS21 and claimed sixth place overall on the final stage.
Marcus commented: "It's a good result after a very challenging rally for me. On the first day we all lost time with bad tyre choices, but I somehow never felt very confident with the car. I went back to the set-up used in Corsica, which didn't feel as good in Spain. I then made some suspension improvements that helped a lot, but there was no grip on this morning's stages. With the right tyres I was able to set a fastest time in the afternoon and eventually take sixth. Most of all I'd like to congratulate Gilles – he's done an excellent job."
Richard Burns set one fastest time yesterday and ran as high as sixth place. But his promising run came to an end on SS19 today, when he went off the road and broke a front-right wheel.
An emotional Peugeot Sport boss, Corrado Provera, commented: "The 206 WRC is a truly fantastic car and Gilles Panizzi is an excellent driver. We are very happy after this victory that we will all remember for a long time. Bravo to everyone!"
The World Rally Championship concludes with the Rally Great Britain, based in Cardiff from November 7-9. Harri Rovanpera rejoins the factory squad alongside Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns, who still has a chance to win the World Championship for Drivers. Peugeot is also in strong contention for the manufacturers' championship, so expect non-stop action from the start.