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   Sunday, 22 September, 2002, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Panizzi completes hat-trick
Gilles Panizzi built a winning lead on the opening day of the San Remo Rally
Panizzi built a winning lead on the opening day

Gilles Panizzi completed a third successive victory at the San Remo Rally on Sunday.

The Frenchman had led since the second stage, and he held off the challenge of Peugeot team-mate Marcus Gronholm over the final two days.

Gronholm was again quicker than Panizzi in winning the 18th and final stage, but he finished 20.9 seconds down overall.

It was a tough rally for me because my shoulder was still sore and was tiring me

Gilles Panizzi

The Finn was well clear of third-placed Norwegian Petter Solberg and extended his championship lead over Britain's Richard Burns to 23 points.

Panizzi, competing with three pins in his right shoulder after suffering a fracture in a fall at home, went into the final stage with a cushion of 23.5secs.

He had nearly come to grief on the second day when he found his path blocked by the stalled Citroen of French compatriot Philippe Bugalski.

But he avoided any late slip-ups to complete his third win of the season and a hat-trick at the Italian round of the championship.

"It was a tough rally for me because my shoulder was still sore and was tiring me and it is always hard to concentrate your best under these conditions," said Panizzi.

If I hadn't had the mechanical problems I had on the first day I could have been closer to challenging Gilles

Marcus Gronholm

"The incident with Bugalski put me under a lot of pressure, and then Marcus was always in the hunt. But everyone at Peugeot did a great job."

Subaru driver Solberg won the day's opening stage and finished 12.5secs clear of Burns, the winner of the third stage of the day, in the battle for the final podium position.

Peugeot had three of the top four drivers, strengthening their grip on the constructors' championship.

Both Gronholm and Peugeot could clinch the title at the next rally in New Zealand from 4-6 October.

"The six points I got for second place does me a power of good in the championship," said Gronholm.

"If I hadn't had the mechanical problems I had on the first day I could have been closer to challenging Gilles. But he was always going to be hard to beat."


Final positions at the San Remo Rally:

1. Gilles Panizzi (Fra) Peugeot 4hrs 10min 15.6secs
2. Marcus Gronholm (Fin) Peugeot 20.9secs behind
3. Petter Solberg (Nor) Subaru 1:06.4
4. Richard Burns (GB) Peugeot 1:18.9
5. Markko Martin (Est) Ford 1:54.9
6. Jesus Puras (Spa) Citroen 2:39.3
7. Cedric Robert (Fra) Peugeot 3:01.3
8. Colin McRae (GB) Ford 5:17.5
9. Harri Rovanpera (Fin) Peugeot 6:18.9
10. Francois Delecour (Fra) Mitsubishi 7:24.4

Drivers standings (after 11 out of 14 events):
1. Gronholm (Fin) 57 points
2. Burns (GB) 34
3. McRae (GB) 33
4. G. Panizzi (Fra) 31
5. Carlos. Sainz (Spa) 26
6. Solberg (Nor) 23
7. Sebastian. Loeb (Fra) 18
7= Rovanpera (Fin) 18 pts
9. Tommi Makinen (Fin) 15
10. Martin (Est) 12

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 BBC Five Live's Sam Lloyd
"Panizzi drove faultlessly"
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