- September 19, 1965
- Not Active
With seven world rally wins and fourteen podiums, the French rally driver Gilles Panizzi is among the best WRC competitors who never won the world's championship title. Panizzi debuted in the World Rally Championship in 1990 and recorded 71 starts until 2006.
He was the asphalt specialist and scored all of his WRC wins at tarmac events (three times Sanremo, two times Corsica and two times Catalunya), driving the Peugeot 206 WRC for the factory team between 2000 and 2003.
Panizzi was born in famous rally region
Gilles Panizzi was born on September 19, 1965, in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in the Alpes-Maritimes department in southern France, the area known by world famous rallies (Monte-Carlo and Sanremo).
He started rallying in 1989, driving the Opel Manta GT/E alongside his brother Herve, who remained his navigator for the entire career.
WRC debut in 1990 with Lancia
In 1990, Panizzi brothers debuted in the World Rally Championship, participating in the Rallye Monte-Carlo with privately entered Lancia Delta Integrale. They finished 16th overall. In 1991, Panizzi switched to the Peugeot 309 GTI, continuing to compete strictly in the French national rallies which were the part of the French championship or the European Rally Championship.
In 1993, Panizzi brothers returned to the WRC, entering the Tour de Corse – Rallye de France with Peugeot Sport's 106 XSI. They didn't finish the race, crashing out on the third special stage of the first day. At the end of the season, Panizzi competed in few events with Lancia Delta HF Integrale, scoring his best result so far, the third place at Rallye de Var.
In 1994, Panizzi was combining the Peugeot 106 Rallye and Peugeot 306 S16, still participating only in the French rallies. His third WRC outing followed at 1995 Tour de Corse. He finished 12th overall and third in the 2-litre class.
Two-time French champion with Peugeot 306 Maxi
Panizzi gets a new Peugeot 306 Maxi in 1995 and won the 1996 French Rally Championship in 1996. In eleven events, he scored six wins and ten podiums, dominantly taking the title. Some of the French rallies were the part of the European Rally Championship, so he also recorded two ERC wins and finished 14th in the ERC points.
In 1997, Panizzi took one more French title with 306 Maxi, winning in three of eight events. In April 1997, Panizzi participated for the first time outside France, entering the Rallye Catalunya, which was the part of the World championship.
Maiden WRC podium at Catalunya
Panizzi took a sensational third place, his first WRC podium, driving the A7-class Peugeot 306 Maxi against mighty WRC and A8-class cars. In May 1997, he scored one more WRC podium, finishing third at Tour de Corse. With two podiums and eight points, Panizzi was 10th in the 1997 WRC standings.
Panizzi was a member of Peugeot Sport team in the 1998 WRC season, entering four events with Peugeot 306 Maxi. His best result was fourth place at Tour de Corse. He added two more gravel events in his calendar with privately-entered Peugeot 106 Rallye (Rally Finland) and Subaru Impreza WRX (Rally GB). In total, he collected six points and finished 12th in the WRC standings.
The new Peugeot 206 WRC came in 1999
In 1999, Panizzi started the season at Rallye Monte-Carlo, crashing out on the last day with privately entered Subaru Impreza S4 WRC. In 1999, Peugeot factory team entered the World Championship with new 206 WRC car and Panizzi participated in four events.
At Tour de Corse, he retired due to mechanical issues. In October, at Rallye Sanremo, his third WRC podium followed. He finished second, behind eventual champion Tommi Makinen. At the end of the season, Panizzi was 10th in the points.
Maiden WRC victory at 2000 Tour de Corse
In the following years, Panizzi became Peugeot's tarmac expert because he wasn't so competitive at gravel events. His first WRC victory came in October 2000 at Tour de Corse. Three weeks later, he added Rallye Sanremo victory. After seven WRC events, Panizzi finished seventh in the points, contributing to Peugeot's world manufacturers' title, together with Marcus Gronholm, who took his first WRC title.
In 2001 season, Panizzi was driving Peugeot 206 WRC for the Peugeot Total team in five events and for the private HF Grifone team in five more events. Panizzi's only victory in 2001 was at Rallye Sanremo and he finished eight in the points at the end of the season, with Peugeot winning one more manufacturers' title.
Three wins at main tarmac events in 2002 season
In 2002, Peugeot again scored a double triumph, with manufacturers' title and drivers' title for Marcus Gronholm. Panizzi was combining drives for the factory team and private Bozian Racing. He won three times, conquering three main asphalt events: Tour de Corse, Rally Catalunya and Rallye Sanremo. His win at Catalunya was marked by a famous 360-degree spin when he had a comfortable lead and decided to make a show for the fans.
In other events, his best result was seventh place at Rally Monte-Carlo and Rally New Zealand. Panizzi finished sixth in the points, which was his career-best result in the World Rally Championship.
Last WRC win at Catalunya and move to Mitsubishi
One more successful season with Peugeot followed in 2003. Panizzi was second at Rallye Sanremo and won the Catalunyan event. It was his seventh and the last WRC victory. In the Bozian Racing's 206 WRC, his best result was fifth place at Rally of Turkey. At the end of the year, Panizzi was 10th in the points.
For 2004 WRC season, Panizzi brothers joined Mitsubishi Motors as the team's leading crew. They competed with the #9 Mitsubishi Lancer WRC 04 in eleven championship events. The team and the car weren't so competitive, so Panizzi's best result was sixth place at Rallye Monte-Carlo and he finished 13th in the points.
Last WRC podium at 2005 Rallye Monte-Carlo
In 2005, Harri Rovanpera became Mitsubishi's main leading driver while Panizzi was sharing the second entry with Gigi Galli. Panizzi participated in five events, finishing third at Rallye Monte-Carlo. It was his last WRC podium. The mechanical issues prevented him from reaching the finish at his home event, Tour de Corse – Rally de France. At the end of the season, he was 15th in the points.
WRC retirement after two events with Škoda
For 2006 season, Panizzi signed a contract with Red Bull Škoda team to drive the #11 Škoda Fabia WRC. He scored two tenth-place finishes, at Rally Monte-Carlo and Rally Catalunya, and then left the team, disappointed with performances of his car. Catalunyan event in March was his last WRC event. In August 2006, he participated in the ERC event Rali Vinho de Madeira, driving the Renault Clio S1600 and finishing sixth overall and third in A6 class.
Ocassional rally appearances in the last decade
After his WRC retirement, Panizzi participated in only four rallies in the next decade. At 2007 Rallye Sanremo, the part of the International Rally Challenge, he finished seventh with Racing Lions' Peugeot 207 S2000. At 2010 Rallye Sanremo he was 22nd with Proton Satria Neo S20000.
In 2014, Panizzi brothers participated in the Rallye International du Maroc Historique, driving the Peugeot 504 V6 Coupe. In 2016, he returned to rally stages for one more time, driving the Peugeot 208 T16 at a local event at the French island Reunion.