Sanremo: Loeb wins as rain causes chaos

Sebastien Loeb's eventual victory in the Sanremo Rally was about the only thing that went according to the script over the final two stages, as heavy rain turned the event on its head. An inspired tyre choice helped Gilles Panizzi to leap up from fifth to second, while Richard Burns was able to sneak into the points to retain his championship lead

Sanremo: Loeb wins as rain causes chaos

Rain started falling shortly long before the crews went out to tackle the final two stages. Most of the teams departed service on slick tyres, expecting dry roads ahead, with only the Peugeot team opting to change their drivers' rubber. Marcus Gronholm opted for cut slicks, with Panizzi choosing intermediates.

Through a mixture of great tyre choice and sublime driving, Panizzi completed SS13 20s quicker than nearest rival Gronholm. He was also 1m01.8s faster than Citroen's Carlos Sainz, moving him up to fourth overall.

But Panizzi saved the best for the very final stage, and storming through SS14 1m16.7s faster than anybody else. This was enough to lift him up to second overall in the final results, just 28.3s behind eventual winner Loeb.

The Citroen star was third fastest on SS13, joint-second fastest on SS14, and probably very thankful that he had built up such a sizeable lead early in the event. His rival for most of the rally, Ford's Markko Martin, was not so lucky. The Estonian lost 30.4s to Panizzi on SS13, and then a massive 1m28.9s on the final stage, to drop down to third overall, a shame given his mighty efforts to catch Loeb all weekend.

Still, at least he finished. Gronholm was second fastest on SS13, and it looked as if he could have a late run at catching Martin for second - and possibly Loeb for victory. But those hopes vanished early on SS14 when Gronholm crashed, ripping a wheel off his Peugeot in the process. After an inspired showing on asphalt, the Finn leaves without scoring.

Carlos Sainz thus moved up to fourth overall, ahead of Ford's Francois Duval. Colin McRae came home third, ahead of Richard Burns. The Briton, who struggled for much of the event, was joint-second quickest behind Panizzi on the final stage, vaulting him ahead of Phillipe Bugalski and Cedric Robert. Crucially, the two points he has scored for doing so ensure he remains in the championship lead, albeit by a highly reduced margin.

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