Keith Cronin and Greg Shinnors claimed victory on the Bulldog International Rally of North Wales after a titanic battle with former British Rally champion Mark Higgins.
The Irish duo's Mitsubishi Evo 9 came out on top by a narrow nine seconds over the Higgins/Bryan Thomas Subaru Impreza N11 on the 82-mile Bala-based event to claim maximum points on the opening round of the BRC, despite it being Cronin's series debut.
Cronin pushed Higgins throughout the entire day, with the Manxman holding a three-second advantage heading into the sixth and final test after leading from the outset. But, when Higgins encountered a suspension problem after hitting a pot-hole on the final stage, it allowed Cronin to push ahead and claim a first-ever victory in the UK forests, having crashed out of the event - which was not part of the BRC - in 2008.
"It's not quite sunk in yet, but I couldn't ask for more really at the start of the season," Cronin admitted, "We've never had any luck over in the UK until today, but luck was on our side. On the penultimate stage, we bent the back wheel and it was hard to drive - but we made it."
Welshman Stuart Jones and co-driver Andy Bull were third in their Mitsubishi, but had to soldier on after a roll on stage three - in which, fortunately, the car only sustained superficial damage - and a puncture on stage one.
Fourth place went to Adam Gould and Sebastian Marshall in their Subaru Impreza, followed by the Scottish pair of David Bogie and Kevin Rae in their Mitsubishi. Scots pair Dave Weston Jr and Neil Shanks finished sixth in another Impreza.
There were three winners in the Bulldog Historic Rally, the opening round of the Dunlop/Gambia 2009 British Historic Rally Championship.
Nick Elliot and Dave Price took the overall victory in their Mk2 Ford Escort, also claiming the win in Category D. They set the pace over three of the four stages on the 50-mile event.
Category C was won by former British champion David Higgins and Ieuan Thomas in their Ford Escort, the pair also finishing fifth overall. The crew had an off on one stage and lost time, while Higgins also battled the after-effects of putting a metal rod through his hand at work in the week prior to the event and was driving more or less one-handed.
Son and father crew, Jonathan and Graham Gale, won Category B in their Sunbeam Tiger and were 15th overall.
The Bulldog Challenge followed the International Rally over a shorter route and was won by Welsh crew Matt Edwards and Andy Murphy, who also took the honours in the Kick Energy Fiesta Sport Trophy in their Ford Fiesta ST. They finished a comfortable two-and-three-quarter minutes ahead of the car of Luke Francis and Jon Madoc-Jones.
The fourth and final event on the oversubscribed rally was the Bulldog Clubman Rally, which featured many local club rally drivers. Michael O'Brien and Ian Allsop took the honours in their Ford Focus WRC. They finished over a minute ahead of the Ford Escort Cosworth of Ian Joel and Graeme Wood.