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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 October, 2003, 15:34 GMT
Panizzi snatches last-gasp win
Gilles Panizzi clutches the winner's trophy after the Catalunya Rally
Panizzi signed off his Peugeot career in style
Frenchman Gilles Panizzi has grabbed a sensational last-minute victory on the final stage of the Catalunya Rally.

The Peugeot driver won the stage while leader Sebastien Loeb of Citroen set a slow time and dropped to second place.

The final stage also dealt a blow to championship leader Carlos Sainz, who dropped from fourth to seventh overall.

Team-mates Sainz and Loeb are tied for the series lead with one event to go, a point ahead of Petter Solberg and five in front of Britain's Richard Burns.

Burns' title hopes were hit when the Englishman crashed out on the final morning.

Burns was in sixth place when he lost control of his Peugeot while running in the rain on stage 19 with three to go.

He could manage only the eighth fastest time, more than 40 seconds slower than Panizzi.

Sebastien Loeb
Loeb said he lacked grip in the wet on the final day
Peugeot team boss Corrado Provera said: "It's a fantastic result and so important for the team and all of us - a goodbye gift from Gilles."

Panizzi, who was having his last drive for Peugeot, added: "It's incredible. This leg, I just hoped to finish on the podium. For me, it was impossible to beat Sebastien Loeb. It's completely crazy."

Technically, Loeb leads the championship from Sainz, as he has won three rallies this year to the Spaniard's one.

Loeb suggested tyre choice had played a decisive role on the final day.

"All our tyres weren't gripping at all in the morning. Peugeot and Ford reacted in the second leg, changing to a type that worked really well but that we didn't know about," he said.

"So I set out with the same set as as we'd been using in the morning and, voila, we had no grip again - my car was undriveable. It's hugely disappointing."

The Ford of Markko Martin was fourth, followed by team-mate Francois Duval, Solberg, world champion Marcus Gronholm, Sainz and Makinen.

Sunday's six stages have been held on wet roads and were dominated by Subaru drivers Solberg and Tommi Makinen.

Solberg said: "It's a long time since I've been so happy with fifth place."

Gronholm's result was a fitting reward for a superb charge through the field after a disappointing first day when he was delayed by a poor tyre choice.




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