Bruno Magalhaes has claimed his first victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge following a thrilling finish to Sata Rally Acores on Saturday.

The Peugeot Sport Portugal driver took the lead on Friday's first stage but dropped out of top spot on stage 15 with a gearbox problem and feared his chances of winning were over.

But in a dramatic turn of events, Juho Hanninen lost first place with a puncture on the penultimate stage before Jan Kopecky, who started the last test leading by 6.4s, crashed out four kilometres from the finish to hand Magalhaes an emotional win in front of thousands of enthusiastic fans.

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Magalhaes had driven without fault throughout the event but his once commanding lead had slowly been eroded by the flying Hanninen, who started Saturday's final seven stages a mere 2.2s behind his Portuguese rival. A faster time through the opening stage of the day for Hanninen elevated him into the joint lead of the event.

With stage 14 cancelled after a herd of cows had wandered into the road, Hanninen had to wait until the following test to move in front of Magalhaes although his task was eased when Magalhaes' gearbox lost its oil and coated the windscreen of his 207 in liquid.

A heroic effort by Magalhaes' mechanics to change his gearbox in the allotted 20-minute service time kept him in the battle for a podium finish before despair turned to joy in the closing stages of the last test when Kopecky crashed out.

Peugeot UK's Kris Meeke, saddled by a high-speed spin on stage six and several punctures, started the final leg first on the road in fifth overall and conceded that overhauling Andreas Mikkelsen for fourth on Saturday's opening stage would be as good as it would get.

But he refused to give up and moved into third when Hanninen had to stop to change a front-right puncture, before seizing second when Kopecky stopped, despite a minor electrical glitch.

Hanninen, driving a factory Skoda Fabia S2000, made up for the disappointment of losing out on his third win of the season by claiming third to extend his lead of the IRC drivers' standings to nine points over Kopecky with Magalhaes moving ahead of the absent Guy Wilks into third after becoming the sixth different winner from seven events.

For Hanninen's team-mate Kopecky, his retirement marked the first time this season that he had failed to score points. It was also poor reward for a strong performance by the Czech resident who was fastest on three stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, who claimed his maiden IRC stage victory on Thursday evening, survived a dramatic scare on stage 14 when he encountered a herd of cows in the middle of the road. Despite veering off the stage he was unable to avoid striking two cows, which left his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 with extensive bodywork damage. He was able to continue and eventually finished fourth despite his powersteering failing two stages from the end.

"We were flat-out in sixth gear and 50 metres after a big crest there was eight or 10 cows in the middle of the road," said the Norwegian driver. "We had to put the car into the ditch where we hit two of the cows. It was a scary moment."

Portuguese championship leader Bernardo Sousa was set for sixth overall only to damage his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000's right-rear suspension striking a bank on stage 18. He limped to the finish a disconsolate 10th overall.

There were strong performances by several local drivers most notably Azores champion Ricardo Moura who recovered from a puncture on the first stage to take fifth overall in his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer.
Vitor Pascoal completed the top six in his Peugeot 207 with Pedro Vale and Sergio Silva, the leading Subaru Impreza finisher, seventh and eighth respectively.

Rafael Tulio secured IRC 2WD Cup honours following a dominant display in his Peugeot 206. The Brazilian's second victory of the season elevates him to the top of the drivers' standings ahead of Pierre Campana, who wasn't contesting the island event.

As well as picking up the overall honours, Bruno Magalhaes secured the inaugural Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy, which will be presented to the most spectacular driver on all remaining rounds of this year's IRC as part of the association between Eurosport Events, promoter of the IRC, and the Colin McRae Vision charity.

Magalhaes was chosen as the winner by IRC's Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Eurosport's Gilbert Roy and Jim McRae, Colin's father.