Giandomenico Basso leads the 50th Rali Vinho Madeira, round seven of the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, heading into the second and final leg today after an engrossing 13 special stages so far.
On Thursday night's superspecial stage through the streets of host city Funchal, championship leader Kris Meeke stole a march on the rest of the field at the wheel of his Peugeot UK-entered 207 S2000. However, unlike his previous three appearances, the British driver wasn't able to capitalise on that early advantage and throughout Friday's action it was Basso in the works Abarth Grande Punto who held sway.
Basso claimed eight fastest stage times through the course of the day, and although he was forced to adopt a more conservative approach through the final four stages due to losing reverse gear and fearing the consequences of a spin, he maintained his advantage.
In pursuit were two more Peugeots, those of Bruno Magalhaes and Alex Camacho, who are contesting the Portuguese championship as well as making their bids for IRC glory. Magalhaes capitalised on Basso's conservative run through the later stages, having himself grown accustomed to the latest compound of BF Goodrich tyres and gained confidence enough to push his car to three stage wins.
Defending IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz is next up and fourth for Peugeot, ahead of the second Abarth of Luca Rossetti.
Meeke, meanwhile, holds sixth place in what has become a titanic battle with championship rival Freddy Loix.
With just six points between them and four rounds remaining after Madeira, the importance of this result to the overall championship hopes of both men is vital - producing a thrilling competition that has seen both men at their best.
If he crosses the line first this evening, Basso will join an elite group of three-time winners on Madeira, alongside Americo da Silva Nunes and Pierro Liatti.
Eight special stages will be run on today's second and final leg, with the victory celebrations to take place in central Funchal.