Paolo Andreucci become the first local guest driver to beat the series regulars to a victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge this season in Sanremo. But he only just hung on to take the win as Juho Hanninen's incredible final day charge brought the Skoda to within 4.4 seconds of Andreucci's Peugeot at the finish, a result that brings Hanninen to the brink of the 2010 IRC title.
Andreucci took the lead from Kris Meeke (Peugeot UK) yesterday afternoon and stayed ahead for most of the rest of the rally, although he was briefly passed by compatriot Giandomenico Basso when an inspired choice of cut slicks for Friday's night damp 44-kilometer Ronde stage saw the Abarth driver vault from fourth to first.
This morning Andreucci was back in front after just one stage, though Basso was right on his tail until a differential problem severely slowed the Punto on the final loop. Abarth suffered a double late disappointment, with Luca Rossetti – who had been a close third – dropping back with a puncture on the penultimate stage.
In any case both may have been passed by Hanninen given the Finn's stunning pace today, which saw him gain 40s on Andreucci on the five leg two stages to finish the rally just 4.4sec behind the winner, though the Italian took it very easy on the last stage.
Hanninen's speed left Meeke to battle with Freddy Loix (Skoda) for the final podium spot, which the Belgian narrowly claimed by winning the very last stage and pushing Meeke down to fourth. Last year's champion cannot now retain his crown, but had been fighting for victory in Sanremo until spinning on Ronde when a close second behind Andreucci.
The delayed Rossetti and Basso had to settle for fifth and seventh places, sandwiching Hanninen's team-mate and title rival Jan Kopecky, who struggled for confidence all weekend and now needs to win the last two rallies to have a shot at beating Hanninen to the championship. Meeke's teammate Thierry Neuville got faster all weekend and came through to claim the final point in eighth.
Fellow Peugeot man Bryan Bouffier was on course for a top five finish at least until losing three minutes with a puncture this morning. Big names Andreas Mikkelsen (Hankook Ford) and Guy Wilks (Skoda UK) both crashed out, the Norwegian on the very first stage and Wilks on today's opener.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Paolo Andreucci Peugeot 2h35m32.7s
2. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 4.4s
3. Freddy Loix Skoda + 34.1s
4. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 38.3s
5. Luca Rossetti Abarth + 1m21.0s
6. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 1m59.9s
7. Giandomenico Basso Abarth + 2m17.9s
8. Thierry Neuville Peugeot + 2m35.0s
9. Gianfranco Cunico Peugeot + 2m42.8s
10. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 2m43.9s