Carlos Sainz completed a lights-to-flag victory on the Cyprus Rally to tie Juha Kankkunen's career record 23 event wins and re-fire his championship ambitions.
The Spaniard was far enough ahead at the start of the third and final day to all but rule out the sort of team orders that cost him victory in the Acropolis Rally and, although running first on the road again cost him time on every stage, the cushion remained at 30-plus seconds as the cars returned to Limassol.
Sainz admitted to going for broke on the opening test, just to see whether he could control the gap back to team-mate Colin McRae and, having convinced himself that a win was finally possible, settled for monitoring the situation stage-by-stage. Such was his advantage at the mid-day service, however, that Ford team officials took the matter out of his hands, and asked McRae to play second fiddle.
''I pushed hard on the first stage today but, once I saw that I could hold Colin off, I eased back a little,'' he grinned.
The victory will lift a monkey from the Spaniard's back, after he felt that the team orders in Greece were more than a little unfair. Having overdriven in New Zealand and Finland, trying to prove a point, however, Sainz looked a different man in Cyprus.
''He's really changed his character for this event,'' confirmed team boss Malcolm Wilson, ''He's totally focused, has been training hard and is really fit. It's paid off.''
McRae remained true to his word and, despite closing remorselessly on his team-mate with each passing stage, did not get close enough to think about challenging for the event win. A third successive runners-up spot, however, has lifted him into a similar place in the world championship, just two points behind leader Marcus Gronholm, who failed to finish in Cyprus. Sainz lies fourth, but is now just seven points of the lead.
McRae's climb was aided by the fact that British rival Richard Burns had dropped off the rostrum at the end of the second leg, and was sufficiently adrift of third placed Francois Delecour to prevent a quick recovery. The Frenchman, realising that the two Fords were out of reach ahead of him, settled for holding onto a podium place.
''All I was doing today was making sure I could stay ahead of Richard,'' he admitted later.
By the end, thirty seconds separated the pair, but Delecour was always in control despite Burns taking a brace of stage wins on SS22 and SS23.
The Subaru man almost dropped out of the rally as soon as the third leg started, after the Impreza refused to re-fire at the time control. Trouble had been suspected after a misfire held Burns back from attacking the fastest time, but the Prodrive crew managed to kick the motor into life in time after discovering a loose wire in the engine bay.