Asphalt-specialist Gilles Panizzi, driving his last rally for Peugeot as a works driver, overhauled Citroën's Sebastien Loeb on the final stage to win the Catalunya Rally on Sunday.

Asphalt-specialist Gilles Panizzi, driving his last rally for Peugeot as a works driver, overhauled Citroën's Sebastien Loeb on the final stage to win the Catalunya Rally on Sunday.


Loeb set a dazzling pace throughout the weekend in his Xsara and looked set to see off the challenges of Ford's Markko Martin and Panizzi on the asphalt event. But Panizzi, who was 49,7 seconds in arrears with three stages remaining, stormed through the final test of Viladrau to snatch a remarkable victory by 13 seconds.


After two days of sunshine, rain finally arrived for the final leg of this year’s rally. Going into the final stage of the rally, Loeb held a 31-second advantage over Panizzi. With only 10,3 seconds over Martin, Panizzi had to push hard through the last test. He did just that, setting fastest time – which he thought was enough to clinch the runners-up spot.


He’d managed that, but there was more to come. Loeb’s tyres weren’t effective through the final test and the Frenchmen swapped places.

Panizzi took Peugeot’s first win since Rally Argentina, followed by Loeb in second and Martin in third.


"This is a fantastic result," said Peugeot team boss Corrado Provera. "It is so important for the team. It is a goodbye gift from Gilles to us."


Panizzi himself said: "Today has been just incredible. I just hoped to finish on the podium. For me, it was impossible to touch Sebastien Loeb… This result is crazy!"


The final stage was disastrous for Citroën, as not only did Loeb lose the victory but team-mate Carlos Sainz ground to a halt in the middle of the test, and dropped from fourth to seventh. The chase for this year’s FIA World Rally Championship looks just as difficult as ever to call.


Loeb leads the standings, although he and Sainz are tied on points, but the Xsara driver gets the nod, having won more rallies than his Spanish rival.


Subaru’s Petter Solberg – who recovered from a 50-second penalty on the first day to make fifth place on the Lloret de Mar-based event is third with long-time series leader Richard Burns dropping to fourth, six points off the top, after crashing out of the event on Sunday morning.


Rally Catalunya, final standings

1 Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot)

2 Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) +13,0s

3 Markko Martin (Ford) +13,6s

4 François Duval (Ford) +55,4s

5 Petter Solberg (Subaru) +1m10,8s

6 Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) +1m29,1s

7 Carlos Sainz (Citroen) +1m33,0s

8 Tommi Makinen (Subaru) +1m55,1s

Original article from Car