Jari-Matti Latvala has taken his second World Rally Championship victory after successfully leading from the front to take honours on Rally d'Italia Sardinia.
The young Finn took the lead on the opening stage of the event on Friday morning and remained out front throughout, despite the apparent disadvantages of running first on the road on both Saturday and Sunday.
Indeed, while time was lost to the chasing pack on Saturday, Latvala actually benefitted from his road position on the final morning as the cars behind struggled to deal with dust hanging in the air, and he extended his advantage during the morning loop before successfully bringing his car to the finish just under 30 seconds ahead of team-mate Mikko Hirvonen and Ford clinched a 1-2 finish.
Latvala's win came after a difficult season to date, and after Ford elected not to impose team orders to give Hirvonen victory.
“It's such a relief!” he said at the end of the final test. “I want to say thanks to the team and to Malcolm [Wilson] for letting me do this. It's a great thing for me to win this rally and also for the team with a one, two. It's been unbelievable, but I've been lucky too. I've made mistakes earlier this year, so this win has come at a very important time.”
Having deliberately slowed on the final stage of day one to secure a better road position, Hirvonen closed the gap to Latvala on day two but he was unable to challenge on the final day as he struggled for visibility, eventually coming home 29.4 second behind in second place.
A puncture for Sebastien Loeb on stage eleven had seen him drop to fourth ahead of the third day, but the defending champion started the final five stages only a matter of seconds behind Petter Solberg.
Like Hirvonen, road position and dust in the air prevented the Frenchman from finding a way past Solberg during the morning, although he went quicker than the Norwegian on the first test of the afternoon to move into third. Loeb then held his position through to the finish, but he was then handed a two-minute penalty by FIA stewards after it emerged that co-driver Daniel Elena had unfastened his seat belts prior to the C4 WRC becoming stationary when the crew stopped to repair their day two puncture.
As a result, Solberg claims the final place on the podium ahead of Loeb, who retains a 17 point lead in the standings despite seeing his 100 per cent winning record come to an end in the Mediterranean.