Giandomenico Basso has won his third Rali Vinho Madeira for Abarth after a thrilling duel with local hero Bruno Magalhaes, which ended with just 3.5 seconds between them after 21 stages.
Basso now joins two other men - namely Americo da Silva Nunes and Pierro Liatti - in the record books of three-time winners, and puts himself into contention for the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge title.
"It was fast, nervous and exciting," said a clearly delighted Basso. "The team has been working hard and the car was strong. This event is very special to me, and to make my third win here after losing on the last stage last year is fantastic."
No less delighted to be runner-up against the IRC front-runners, Magalhaes was equally effusive. "It's a great honour for me to be able to perform so strongly among such great drivers," he said. "It was a long rally, very tense at the finish but second place really feels like a win to me."
It was championship leader Kris Meeke who took first blood in Madeira with a storming drive through the streets of Funchal to claim Thursday evening's super special by 0.9 seconds. Yet when the rally headed out into the green and mountainous roads around the island, Basso's experience paid off and he delivered a string of eight fastest stage times to go clear by the end of Leg 1.
That advantage was much-needed however, because Portuguese driver Bruno Magalhaes was within striking distance throughout in second place. When Basso hit gearbox problems he was forced to go slow, fearing a spin would prove costly without reverse gear, it allowed both Magalhaes and Meeke to take stage victories from him.
At the start of Day 2 Basso had a fresh gearbox on board his Grande Punto but it was his team-mate Luca Rossetti who set the pace, running in fifth position and taking two stage wins. Then on SS16 Rossetti's run came to a dramatic halt as he crashed out, promoting Meeke to fifth.
Basso and Magalhaes then traded fastest stage times, although defending IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz won SS18 to close up on third-place runner Alex Camacho after Basso lost 10 seconds with a spin. Nevertheless the positions were static even though the speed advantage ebbed and flowed from driver to driver.
"We started a little slow, though we were trying to go fast," said Vouilloz. "I'm not really happy about the weekend but the car was good today and we were able to drive to the maximum."