Nicolas Vouilloz took his first victory of the year on the Madeira Rally on Saturday, the fifth round in the 2008 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, to claim the exclusive lead in the race for the drivers' title.

The Peugeot Belgium driver won the opening spectator superspecial on Thursday night and then reclaimed the lead on SS12 on Friday, after Peugeot Portugal driver Bruno Magalhaes picked up a puncture that cost him three minutes and the chance to win the rally.

Vouilloz then faced a tough final day in Madeira, taking in eight special stages, in which he had to fend off another local expert in a Peugeot, Madeiran Alexandre Camacho, as well as Abarth driver Giandomenico Basso.

"I had a lot of pressure today, so I'm very pleased to win," said Vouilloz. "I didn't have so much confidence over the final stages, so it was a question of trying to hang on and not make any mistakes.

"It was very close all day, so I'm really happy that this tactic worked: it was definitely one of the toughest days of my career."

The undoubted star of the final day though was Basso, who won all of the Saturday stages apart from one. Basso - a two-time winner of the Madeira Rally - was briefly in the lead on Friday morning, but lost out after making the wrong tyre choice in the afternoon.

Having started the final day with more than a 30-second deficit to the leader, he ended it just five seconds behind, grabbing a well-deserved second from Camacho in the final test.

"I don't think choosing the soft compound g-Force Profiler on Friday was an error," Basso insisted at the end. "It was a realistic option because certain portions were reported to be damp. They just dried out quicker than we thought.

"I pushed as hard as I could today and my hard compound g-Force A10 tyres were consistent over all four of the loop's stages. Finishing second overall is a nice reward for everyone in the team."

In fourth place meanwhile was former European champion Renato Travaglia, suffering from a stomach upset that handicapped him throughout the rally, which was held in dry and hot conditions.

Nonetheless, the privateer Abarth driver defeated Peugeot Italy's Luca Rossetti, who came into the Madeira Rally jointly leading the championship together with Vouilloz. Rossetti dropped time with overheating brakes during the very first loop of stages on Friday, and struggled to make up the time lost from then on.

Ypres Rally winner Freddy Loix was sixth in his Peugeot, in front of Umberto Scandola, who was drafted in at the last minute to replace the unwell Anton Alen at Abarth. Despite not contesting any major events since October last year, the young Italian did well to score points.

Magalhaes eventually claimed eighth and the final point, having led earlier.

The winner of the IRC 2WD Cup was local man Miguel Nunes, at the wheel of a Peugeot 206 Super 1600, who claimed the category lead from the first day. The similar car of Antonio Nunes finished second, putting Peugeot in the lead of the category.

Retirements included Brice Tirabassi, who stopped with an electrical problem on the opening day, while the similar car of Luca Betti was hindered by gear selection problems throughout the event.

The next round of the IRC is the Barum Rally Zlin from August 22-24 in the Czech Republic.

Result - Madeira Rally: Top 8:

1. Nicolas Vouilloz Peugeot 207 S2000 3h05m14.8s
2. Giandomenico Basso Abarth Grande Punto +5.4s
3. Alexandre Camacho Peugeot 207 S2000 +8.0s
4. Renato Travaglia Abarth Grande Punto +41.2s
5. Luca Rossetti Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m02.5s
6. Freddy Loix Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m08.7s
7. Umberto Scandola Abarth Grande Punto +2m28.6s
8. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot 207 S2000 +3m03.2s

Championship standings after round 5:

Drivers - Top 8:

1. Nicolas Vouilloz 36 points
2. Luca Rossetti 30 points
3. Giandomenico Basso 22 points
4. Freddy Loix 19 points
5. Jan Kopecky 15 points
6. Juha Hanninen 14 points
6. Anton Alen 14 points
8. Renato Travaglia 10 points


1. Peugeot 85 points
2. Abarth 46 points
3. Mitsubishi 9 points
4. Volkswagen 5 points


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