Sanremo: Panizzi's hat-trick

Peugeot's tarmac specialist Gilles Panizzi cruised home to claim a hat-trick of Sanremo Rally wins as Marcus Gronholm stretched his World Rally Championship lead with a comfortable second place

Sanremo: Panizzi's hat-trick

Peugeot's latest one-two result this season has put the French team within three points of its third successive world championship for manufacturers. And with 48 points still available from the final three events of the year (New Zealand, Australia and Rally GB), it's as close to nailed as possible.

Panizzi may have dominated the event as predicted but second place for Gronholm has placed the Finn in a similar commanding position as the drivers' championship heads into its closing stages. Three drivers can still stop him winning the title (Richard Burns, Colin McRae and Panizzi) but he also needs just four points, with 30 on the table, to wrest the crown back from Burns.

Peugeot was kept from a clean sweep of the podium by a determined effort from Subaru's Petter Solberg over the latter stages of yesterday and the first of today, the Norwegian the only driver to break the stranglehold of stage wins held by the French team. Burns tried to hit back this morning but quickly realised that it wasn't going to happen and settled for fourth, ahead of Ford's Markko Martin.

Martin was in inspired form throughout the rally, a complete contrast to the lacklustre drive from Colin McRae who never got to grips with the Italian event at all. Perhaps the fact that he now heads to three events where he can expect to be among the favourites for victory will be the kick-start he needs.

The final manufacturers' point fell to Mitsubishi and the Rugby-based team now has a hint of daylight between itself and rivals for fourth place, Skoda and Hyundai.

The World Championship now heads to the far side of the globe for its next two events. New Zealand was where both McRae and Burns scored their first major victories but will that be enough to stop Gronholm wrapping up the title long before the trek back to Wales? Unlikely.

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