Puras wins as Burns benefits

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The Spaniard Jesus Puras held off the challenge of Gilles Panizzi to claim a maiden world championship rally win in France yesterday.

Puras won the Rally of Corsica by 17.5 seconds, despite finishing over a minute off the pace on the final stage. Aside from Puras, the most satisfied driver will have been the Englishman Richard Burns, who claimed two championship points for his fifth-place finish.

The reward means he moves to within five points of joint-leaders Tommi Makinen and Colin McRae with just the Australian and British legs remaining. McRae, who finished second to Burns on the final stage managed only 11th place and missed out on the points.

The outcome of the rally is that only six drivers can now mathematically win the championship: McRae, Burns, Makinen, Carlos Sainz, Harri Rovanpera and Panizzi.

Puras had not scored a point this season. But his Citroen Xsara proved reliable throughout the rally and, most importantly, over the 111.68 kilometres of asphalt awaiting the drivers yesterday.

He dropped 13.9 seconds to Panizzi on the final stage, but could afford to. Auriol followed fellow Frenchman Panizzi home in third place after his challenge for top honours was hampered by early punctures.

McRae's rally proved a major disappointment, particularly since Makinen crashed out on the opening day. Burns was promoted to fourth place and collected an extra point as his Subaru team asked Petter Solberg to collect a time penalty and drop behind his team leader at the final control.

The Norwegian said: "It didn't matter where I finished, it's not my time yet to prove anything and my time will come."

Burns was relieved to get fourth place and three championship points. "I made a mistake on the first day and I didn't think I'd be able to continue. Petter and his co-driver have been very professional and I really appreciate what they've done for Robert and myself. The last two rallies of the year are going to be incredibly exciting and I'm glad I can fight to the end."