Paolo Andreucci has claimed his first victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge after defeating fellow Italian Giandomenico Basso in a close fight on Rallye Sanremo, which took place on the testing mountain roads of northern Italy's Imperia province on Friday and Saturday.
Driving a Peugeot Italia-backed 207 Super 2000, the 45-year-old took a lead he would never relinquish on Saturday's opening stage.
Basso, at the wheel of a factory Abarth Grande Punto, had put Andreucci under intense pressure and began the final loop of three stages 0.9s behind his countryman. However, a differential fault on stage 10 dropped Basso to an eventual seventh place and allowed Andreucci to cruise home in first place.
The result also enabled Andreucci to strengthen his grip on the Italian championship, which he is on course to win for a third time.
"This is a great result for me and I am very happy,” Andreucci said. “The most important thing this weekend was the Italian championship but to win overall and claim top points in the IRC is a very special feeling. The car and my Pirelli tyres have been perfect all rally."
After Luca Rossetti, in the second works Grande Punto, lost time with a slow front-right puncture on the penultimate stage and fell to fifth overall, Juho Hanninen inherited second place in his Skoda Motorsport Fabia S2000. It was the ninth time this season that the 29-year-old Finn had finished on the podium although the result wasn't quite enough for Hanninen to be crowned the 2010 IRC drivers' champion.
With two events left in Scotland and Cyprus, Hanninen's Skoda team-mate Jan Kopecky can still theoretically snatch the crown if he wins the last two rallies and Hanninen doesn't finish second in either of them under the dropped-score system. However, Skoda's plans for the remaining two rounds of the series have yet to be finalised.
Hanninen's drive to second place meant he was chosen as the latest recipient of the Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy by a judging panel consisting of Colin's father Jim McRae, Eurosport's Gilbert Roy and Jean-Pierre Nicolas, the IRC's Motorsport Development Manager. They agreed Hanninen's spectacular performance, which included two outright stage victories, had best embodied the spirit of the rallying legend, who was victorious in Sanremo on two occasions during his career.
"I have to say this was probably my best drive on tarmac,” Hanninen noted. “I pushed really hard without taking any big risks and my times were very good. The conditions were not easy at times but maybe they suited me."