“The support was almost on the ground and there was nothing we could do,” he rued. “One more time it is bad luck when we are fighting for the podium. I'm very disappointed.”
Magalhaes' misfortune enabled Jan Kopecky to claim a comfortable third position despite the onset of a power steering problem on Saturday morning, which proved a particular hindrance to the Czech driver on the very narrow and twisty stage 14. With a clear margin over Bryan Bouffier in fourth, however, the mechanical failure went unpunished and Kopecky duly sealed his fourth rostrum finish of the 2011 campaign.
“It was a pity for Bruno,” he reflected, “because we were having a nice battle for third and the feeling is always better when you have a nice battle – but I am happy to be third on my first gravel rally for one year.”
Bouffier was the highest-placed event newcomer at the wheel of his Peugeot France 207. The Rallye Monte-Carlo winner ran first-on-the-road on the final day, and his capture of fourth overall means he remains firmly in contention for the IRC drivers' crown.
Patrik Sandell said he lacked the confidence to attack on Saturday's fog-hit opening stage, and he adopted a cautious approach to finish fifth in his Skoda Sweden-entered Fabia – his best result in the IRC to date. He rounded out a solid performance by winning the last stage.
Ricardo Moura dominated the IRC Production Cup category in his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer, winding up sixth overall in the process. Little troubled the local hero, who resisted the temptation to try to replicate the fifth place he had achieved in the Azores in 2010 in favour of securing maximum points in the Azorean and Portuguese championships. Vitor Lopes finished seventh in a Subaru Impreza, with Vitor Pascoal eighth at the wheel of another Lancer.
Behind Sergio Silva in ninth, Yokohama-backed Fumio Nutahara claimed his maiden IRC drivers' championship point on his first appearance in Subaru's R4-specification Impreza. The Japanese ace thought his challenge was over when his car's engine cut following a water splash on stage 14, but he fought back to clinch tenth overall.
Jean-Michel Raoux extended his lead in the IRC 2WD Cup by finishing an impressive second-in-class to Paulo Maciel. Defending champion Harry Hunt's challenge ended on Saturday's opening stage when he got beached on an earth bank.
After retiring when he broke his suspension nudging an earth bank on Friday morning, Guy Wilks elected not to re-start on Saturday under SupeRally regulations in his Peugeot UK 207. Nutahara's Subaru team-mate Toshi Arai did re-start under SupeRally following his exit on Friday with an electrical fault, but he suffered a further delay when he had to stop to change a tyre on stage 14.
Sata Rallye Acores - Top ten IRC positions (after day three):
1. Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula
Skoda Fabia S2000 1h07m45.8s
2. Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene
Skoda Fabia S2000 +42.3s
3. Jan Kopecky/Petr Stary
Skoda Fabia S2000 +1m46.0s
4. Bryan Bouffier/Xavier Panseri
Peugeot 207 S2000 +3m36.2s
5. Patrik Sandell/Staffan Parmander
Skoda Fabia S2000 +4m33.3s
6. Ricardo Moura/ Sandro Eiro
Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX +6m07.0s
7. Vitor Lopes/Hugo Magalhaes
Subaru Impreza STI WRX +9m52.1s
8. Vitor Pascoal/Luis Ramalho
Ralliart Lancer Evolution X +12m47.3s
9. Sergio Silva/Nelson Cordeiro
Subaru Impreza STI WRX +14m00.3s
10. Fumio Nutahara/Hakaru Ichino
Subaru Impreza R4 +18m10.8s
IRC Production Cup:
Ricardo Moura/Sandro Eiro (Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX)
IRC 2WD Cup:
Paulo Maciel/Filipe Gouveira (Citroen Saxo VTS)
IRC Drivers' standings (after round 6 of 11) – Top 10:
1. Juho Hanninen
2. Bryan Bouffier
3. Jan Kopecky
= Freddy Loix
5. Thierry Neuville
6. Andreas Mikkelsen
7. Guy Wilks
8. Toni Gardemeister
9. Hans Weijs
10. Bruno Magalhaes
= Patrik Sandell
Manufacturers' standings (after round 6 of 11):