Auriol snatches late victory

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The French world champion, Didier Auriol, recorded his sixth triumph in the Tour of Corsica after the race leader, Bruno Thiry of Belgium, retired with mechanical problems when he had victory in sight.

Unfancied Thiry, in a Ford Escort, was 40 seconds ahead of Auriol's Toyota with two timed stages remaining when he had to stop with a broken front- wheel bearing. Auriol equalled the record six wins of compatriot Bernard Darniche, and kept alive his hopes of retaining the title.

Thiry's retirement put his team-mate, Franois Delecour, second, 15 seconds behind. Andrea Aghini, of Italy, was a further 42 seconds back in third place, with Carlos Sainz of Spain a disappointing fourth, although he managed to retain his world championship lead.

Thiry, who had never led a world championship rally, took the lead in the first timed stage on Wednesday and kept it until he had to retire. "You have to give him a lot of credit," Auriol said. "What he did is incredible and it's too bad to lose like that."

Thiry started the final day with the fastest time in the first three of the day's eight timed sections from Calvi to Ajaccio. He conceded only one second to a determined Auriol in the next two timed stages, and looked set to give Belgium their first world championship win.

However, in the stage to Zippitoli the problems began began, and on the road section leading to the penultimate timed stage, he had to stop and watch Auriol cruise to victory. "I can't believe it," said a distraught Thiry. "I didn't dare think about winning, but I felt things were going well."

"Obviously, that's not the way I would have like to win," said Auriol, who climbs to third place in the world championship standings, two points behind his team-mate, Juha Kankk-unen, who finished 10th.

The next round of the world championship is in New Zealand in July, as the results of the next two events in Greece and Argentina will only count towards the new two-litre category.