Thierry Neuville clinched the second Intercontinental Rally Challenge victory of his short career in an incredible last-stage showdown with Andreas Mikkelsen in Sanremo after Freddy Loix crashed out.
BFO Skoda driver Loix's accident while leading three stages from the end turned what had been a three-way fight into a head to head shootout between rising stars Neuville (Kronos Peugeot) and Mikkelsen (Skoda UK), the latter still hunting for his maiden win after crashing within sight of victory in Hungary two weeks ago.
Mikkelsen had led the first half of the rally, but could not shake off Loix or Neuville. Loix nosed ahead on Friday night's long stage, lost the lead on Saturday's opener, then reclaimed it just before the midday service.
But on the first stage of the final loop, Loix crashed out. The Belgian and his co-driver Frederic Miclotte were both unhurt, but with following crews having to stop to assist with the clear-up, the stage had to be canceled.
Neuville had been surging forward throughout today's stages, and when the action resumed on SS12, a stage victory saw him grab the lead for the first time, just 0.3sec ahead of Mikkelsen. He then stretched that gap by another 1.2sec on the Colle d'Oggia decider to add a Sanremo win to his Corsica success earlier this year.
Bryan Bouffier never entirely lost touch with the leaders, but never had the pace to fight for victory either. He finished third for Peugeot France.
It was a low-key weekend for championship leader Jan Kopecky (Skoda). He fought off a mid-rally challenge from Peugeot Portugal's Bruno Magalhaes and leading local driver Umberto Scandola's Car Racing Ford to clinch a lonely fourth.
Peugeot UK driver Guy Wilks' tough season took another downward turn as he crashed out on the very first stage. Series returnee Chris Atkinson was also an almost-immediate retirement when his Proton stopped on SS1.