Giandomenico Basso shares third place in the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge title race with Freddy Loix, the result of a tense and exciting three days in Madeira.
The Abarth team leader's victory puts him just seven points behind championship leader Kris Meeke with four
rounds remaining after a thrilling duel with local hero Bruno Magalhaes, which ended with just 3.5s between them after 21 stages.
"It was fast, nervous and exciting," said a clearly delighted Basso. "The team has been working hard and the car was strong. This event is very special to me, and to make my third win here after losing on the last stage last year is fantastic."
Having won eight of the 12 special stages on Friday, Basso looked to have the event under control, and with a replacement gearbox fitted after Friday night's worries he looked strong.
Yet Magalhaes resolutely pushed the Italian on every stage, and after spinning on SS17, Basso came under increasing pressure as his lead was cut - but he had enough in hand to claim the victory.
"It was a very close fight, and I am so pleased to do this here in Madeira," said Magalhaes. "It is an honour to compete with international drivers on this amazing rally, and I have loved every second."
Coming home third was the defending Portuguese national champion Alex Camacho, who was able to fend off reigning IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz in another tense battle through the final stages.
"We started a little slow, though we were trying to go fast," said Vouilloz. "I'm not really happy about the weekend but the car was good today and we were able to drive to the maximum. Fourth place is not what we needed from this event but that was the best we could do."
In contrast Kris Meeke was delighted to come home in fifth place, putting four more points on the board.
"This is a very, very special rally," he said. "To come here for the first time and win would be impossible, the top four guys were incredible and to be just over a minute behind Giandomenico after three hours is amazing."
"The points you win on a bad weekend are the ones that count the most," he added.
Less happy was Freddy Loix, who knows that with four rounds to go every point counts, and that the single point Meeke was able to keep from him in Madeira could prove invaluable.
"We hadn't made all our preparations before we came here so Day One was spent on the setup – and by the time we got that right everyone had gone!" he said. "We had to keep the pressure on Meeke but he did a great rally and that's another point to him."
Behind Loix came two more Portuguese Peugeots – Ricardo Nunes and Corrado Fontana respectively. The all-new Proton Satria Neo of Guy Wilks finished the event in 10th place overall, the team electing to focus on developing the car once it became clear that a points-scoring result was not achievable.
Skoda too failed to increase its score in Madeira, despite the presence of Maurin in a Skoda Italia-prepared Fabia S2000. His challenge was thwarted on the road section to SS13 when, having lost his brakes, Maurin was powerless to avoid an accident which forced major repairs to be made overnight and saw him restarting under SupeRrally regulations well outside the points.
In the 2WD Cup Manuel Villa scored his second win of the season for Abarth in his Punto S1600. The Spaniard was able to contain the threat from his biggest rival in the series, Denis Millet's turbochared Peugeot 207, to take a resounding win.
The next IRC event will be Barum Rally Zlin, August 21-23, in the Czech Republic.
Rally Madeira, IRC Round 7 - Final results:
1. Giandomenico Basso (I) Abarth Grande Punto S2000 3hrs 9m 55.4s
2. Bruno Magalhaes (P) Peugeot 207 S2000 +3.5s
3. Alex Camacho (P) Peugeot 207 S2000 +41.7s
4. Nicolas Vouilloz (F) Peugeot 207 S2000 +49.4s
5. Kris Meeke (GB) Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m 21.9s
6. Freddy Loix (B) Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m 28.4s
7. Miguel Nunes (P) Peugeot 207 S2000 +4m 57.9s
8. Corrado Fontana (I) Peugeot 207 S2000 +5m 50.6s
9. Michal Solowow (PL) Peugeot 207 S2000 +7m 29.9s
10. Guy Wilks (GB) Proton Satria Neo S2000 +10m 40.8s
IRC Drivers' standings after 7 of 11 Rounds:
1. Kris Meeke (GB) 34 points
2. Jan Kopecky (CZ) 29
3. Giandomenico Basso (I) 27
= Freddy Loix (B) 27
5. Nicolas Vouilloz (F) 19
6. Juho Hanninen (F) 14
7. Sebastien Ogier (F) 10
= Carl Tundo (EAK) 10
9. Alistair Cavanagh (GB) 8
= Bruno Magalhaes (P) 8
IRC Manufacturers' standings after 7 of 11 rounds:
1. Peugeot 82 points
2. Skoda 43
3. Ralliart 41
4. Abarth 34
5. Proton 5
6. Honda 1