Giandomenico Basso has claimed his third career victory in the Rali Vinho Madeira, a result that has both put him into contention for the Intercontinental Rally Challenge title and into the lead of the FIA European Rally Championship.
The Abarth driver stamped his authority on round seven of the IRC from the start of the first full day, after championship leader Kris Meeke delivered a thunderous win on the opening superspecial on Thursday evening.
Nevertheless it was far from being a straightforward win. Basso's progress was slowed in the final third of the opening leg, when he lost reverse gear and drove cautiously to avoid a spin from which he would have struggled to escape.
With Portuguese star Bruno Magalhaes relentless in his pursuit, Basso then spun just three stages from home, and Magalhaes struck back with two successive stage wins to bring the gap down to under 8s. Yet at the finish the Italian had just enough in reserve to hold out.
"This has been a fantastic rally for me before and to win again is reward for the hard work this year," the winner said. We had a couple of problems of course and Bruno pushed the whole time but the team is strong, the car was strong and now we are fighting for two major championships. I'm very happy."
Joining Basso and Magalhaes on the podium was defending Portuguese champion Alex Camacho, who was able to contain the Kronos triumvirate of defending IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz, current championship leader Meeke and pavement ace Freddy Loix.
"Fifth place is actually a lot better than it looks," said Meeke, whose weekend included a minor off that required the fitting of a new door. "It's the points you get on a bad weekend that matter.
"Madeira's a special place and the four guys in front included two locals and two previous winners, so it's hard to take that badly. More importantly I was able to hold Freddy off and get another point between us, which is going to be precious in the last four events."
Peugeot managed to claim eight of the top ten positions overall, to underline its dominant position in the manufacturers' championship. Skoda failed to score after Frenchman Julien Maurin crashed his Skoda Italia-entered Fabia on the way to SS13 when its brake pedal hit the floor.
In the 2WD categories, the Renault Clio R3s of Filipe Freitas and Joao Silva held sway, but in the IRC 2WD Cup it was a second victory for Manuel Villa's Fiat Punto S1600 from Denis Millet's unique 1600cc turbo Peugeot 207.
The next IRC round is the Barum Rally Zlin in the Czech Republic on August 21-23, when an all-out assault from Skoda to win on home ground will add further spice to the action as Jan Kopecky bids to take the IRC series lead.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Giandomenico Basso Abarth 3h09m55.4s
2. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 3.5s
3. Alexandre Camacho Peugeot + 41.7s
4. Nicolas Vouilloz Peugeot + 49.4s
5. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 1m21.9s
6. Freddy Loix Peugeot + 1m28.4s
7. Miguel Nunes Peugeot + 4m57.9s
8. Corrado Fontana Peugeot + 5m50.6s
9. Michal Solowow Peugeot + 7m29.9s
10. Filipe Freitas Renault +10m22.4s