Panizzi bows out in style

Peugeot and Gilles Panizzi have been a perfect match on many asphalt rallies in the World Rally Championship, so when the mercurial Frenchman embarked on his final day as a works driver for the manufacturer on Rally Catalunya, he didn't hold back

Panizzi bows out in style

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb had set a dazzling pace throughout the event in his Citroen Xsara, apparently keeping the challenges of Ford's Markko Martin and Peugeot's Panizzi at bay. But the rains came on that fateful Sunday morning, and Panizzi, who was 49.7s in arrears with three stages remaining, stormed through the final test to snatch a remarkable, and what had seemed very unlikely, victory by 13secs.

"It is a goodbye gift from Gilles to us," said the enigmatic Peugeot Sport chief Corrado Provera. Panizzi himself, who is Mitsubishi-bound for 2004, couldn't quite believe it either: "Today has been just incredible. I just hoped to finish on the podium. For me, it was impossible to touch Loeb... This result is crazy!"

Loeb only held on to second place by just 0.6secs from Martin. Almost unnoticed, meanwhile, champion-in-waiting Petter Solberg took full advantage of the wet conditions to climb to fifth place in his Subaru on that final day, which set up his successful title charge in the following Rally GB finale.

And if it wasn't for Panizzi's heroics over those last few kilometres in Spain, Loeb would have the points he needed to be world champion right now...

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