Citroen's Sebastien Ogier secured the victory on Rally Japan today, even though it was his first time competing on the event.
Ogier, who led early on, ran in the top-three throughout and he eventually took the honours on the tenth round in the 2010 World Rally Championship by 15.7 seconds.
The Frenchman finished the first day 21.3 seconds off the lead, but he closed back to within 5.4 seconds off P1 on Saturday, despite slowing in the final 'proper' test to ensure he would have a better road position for Sunday's leg. Not that he needed it in the end, as his main rivals all had problems.
Petter Solberg slipped back with suspension woes, while Mikko Hirvonen was also taken out of the equation after a hydraulic pump failed. Ogier thus had a relatively easy run to his second career victory, following his maiden win in Portugal back in May.
The result further strengthens his hold second place in the WRC drivers' championship and he is now 26 points up on Jari-Matti Latvala, with three rounds to go.
"It was my first time here and to win is fantastic," Ogier said. "Arriving here I said I didn't really like this rally and it will be difficult for me. But I found a very good feeling. On the first day we took the time to learn and understand the roads. On the second day we looked at the speed and to have a good position for the last day. Today we had to really push hard and we won. It is perfect."
Petter Solberg meanwhile had to be content with the runners-up spot and after leading for most of the event he could have been forgiven for feeling somewhat disappointed.
However, he maintained he was pleased with 'silver', especially given he has been less than 100 per cent fit this weekend and given he had to nurse his car to the finish today as there was no mid-day service to make repairs.
"When I got the problem with the front suspension in the second stage this morning I immediately knew I had no chance to win," Solberg noted. "[But] after my illness, after this problem and after having to drive in first position on the road though, I'm still quite happy to finish second."
Hirvonen, who had ended Saturday just 3.7 seconds off Solberg, was similarly handicapped on the final leg by mechanical problems and he lost over a minute as a result, eventually ending up in sixth: "Okay, I manage to go to the finish. But I'm very disappointed. When the third day started early this morning, I thought I had a real chance to win," he said.
Hirvonen's team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala thus took the final place on the podium, overhauling Dani Sordo in the repeat-run through Naekawa 2. Latvala eventually finished 9.2 seconds up on the Spaniard and just 10.3 seconds off Solberg. He had mixed feelings about the result though, as he had been leading at one point on Saturday until he had driveshaft problems: "After my problems yesterday, I'm a bit surprised to finish on the podium," Latvala noted. "But, I'm also disappointed because I think I could have won here."
Further down the order, Sordo was frustrated not to be able to hold off Latvala and he was a bit mystified as to why he was not a bit closer to the pace: "Today was difficult for me," he admitted. "I don't know why I am not going faster in the slow corners."
Sebastien Loeb completed the top five and the Frenchman was strangely never really on the pace. In the end he opted to take it carefully in order to ensure he picked up points. He now heads to his home event with a 43 point lead in the drivers' championship and a win there will give him his seventh title. Victory there will also more than likely give Citroen the manufacturers' crown too, as the French team will go to the event 95 points up on Ford.
"All three days have been difficult for me," Loeb said. "These ten points though are enough to secure my position in the drivers' ranking. If I win the next rally, I'll be champion in France, my native country."
Of the rest, Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg came in seventh, nearly two minutes behind Hirvonen and more than seven minutes up on Munchi's man Federico Villagra. Henning took his first stage win in 18 months on Friday, when he was quickest in SS5, but that was the only real highlight for the Norwegian.
He said he was pleased with the result though: "It was a good final day for us. I'm happy with my times. I didn't really push because there was nothing to win. I drove carefully to get to the end."
Jari Ketomaa and Martin Prokop rounded out the top ten, the former taking the SWRC honours - 33.7 seconds up on his Czech rival. Bernardo Sousa, the only other SWRC runner on this event, retired today in SS23 with mechanical problems: "This win is very important for me and the team," said Ketomaa. "Everything worked well during the last three days."
Patrik Flodin took the PWRC victory, taking the lead in SS4 when local star Toshi Arai crashed out. Flodin eventually finished more than 2.5 minutes up on Hayden Paddon. Gianluca Linari was third in the class after Michel Jourdain retired in Naekawa 2 with mechanical problems.
The most notable retiree on this event however, was F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen had been on course to finish eighth but he went off in the first stage today when he misheard a pace note. His car was undamaged but with no spectators around, it was impossible to get back on the stage.
"After steering clear of mistakes for so long, it's really disappointing that such a small thing caused us to retire," Raikkonen said. "I just didn't quite understand the note, so we were a bit too quick into the corner.
"I tried to get the car back but unfortunately there was nothing to do and we went off. If there had been some spectators around then we would have had no problem to get back onto the road but it was in a place where nobody was there so unfortunately that was it."
Britain's Matthew Wilson had a similar problem to Raikkonen, but on Saturday, when he got stuck in a ditch in SS11. He re-joined under the SupeRally today and was classified 22nd.
The 2010 FIA World Rally Championship now returns to asphalt later this month with the new-look Rallye de France. The event has moved from its traditional home on the island of Corsica and will be based in Strasbourg, running from 30 September - 3 October.STOP PRESS:
To see the result following today's WRC Rally Japan - CLICK HERE.
To view the latest championship standings - CLICK HERE.