FIAT-Abarth team driver Giandomenico Basso has won his third Rali Vinho Madeira after a gripping battle with local hero Bruno Magalhaes. Basso took the victory with just 3.5s between them after 21 stages.
Basso joins two other men, Americo da Silva Nunes and Pierro Liatti in the record books of three-time winners, and puts himself into contention for the Intercontinental Rally Challenge title and into the lead of the FIA European Rally Championship.
Basso stamped his authority from the start of the first full day, after championship leader Kris Meeke won the opening superspecial on Thursday evening.
It was far from being an easy win. Basso's pace was slowed in the final part of the opening leg, when he lost the reverse gear in his Abarth Grande Punto S2000 and had to drive cautiously to avoid a spin from which he would have difficulty to escape.
Then on the final day with Portuguese star Bruno Magalhaes in his Peugeot 207 S2000 persistent in pursuit, Basso spun just three stages from home. Magalhaes struck back with two straight stage wins to close the gap down to under eight seconds. Yet at the finish the Italian had just enough in reserve to hold on.
"It was fast, nervous and exciting," said an elated 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."
No less thrilled to be runner-up against the IRC front-runners, Magalhaes was equally demonstrative. "It's a great honor for me to be able to perform so strongly among such great drivers," he said. "It was a long rally, very tense at the finish but second place really feels like a win to me."
It was championship leader Kris Meeke in his Peugeot 207 S2000 who took an early lead in Madeira with an exceptional drive through the streets of Funchal to claim Thursday evening's superspecial by 0.9 seconds.
But when the rally headed out into the green and mountainous roads around the island, Basso's experience came to the fore and he put together a string of eight fastest stage times to go into the lead at the end of Leg 1.
At the start of Day Two, Basso had a fresh gearbox in his Grande Punto a then set about to trade fastest stage times with Magalia’s.
Defending IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz won SS18 to close up on Alex Camacho in third-place. Yet the positions were static even though the speed advantage ebbed and flowed from driver to driver.
"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."
Peugeot filled eight of the top 10 positions. A duel between Meeke and Freddy Loix was proved to be another exciting battle that raged throughout the event for fifth place and may well prove pivotal for the championship.
Meeke held a six point advantage over Loix Going in to the Rally Madeira. Now the Briton has 34 points, Jan Kopecky has 29 and both Loix and Basso have 27.
"This is a very, very special rally," Meeke 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 after three hours is amazing. The points you win on a bad weekend are the ones that count the most."
Top 10 Finishers
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' positions 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
Photo & Quotes: IRC