Italian driver Andrea Dallavilla has set up an exciting conclusion to the FIA Junior World Rally championship, by securing victory in the category on his home round of the series, the Rallye Sanremo.

Dallavilla and his co-driver, Giovanni Bernacchini, brought their Citroen Saxo to this afternoon's finish in the coastal resort that lends its name to the event just under 10 seconds clear of their fellow countrymen, Giandomenico Basso and Luigi Pirollo (Fiat Punto).

Dallavilla's success lifted him to the top of the series standings with only the Rally of Great Britain remaining. He and Daniel Sola, who lies just a single point behind, with thus fight it out for the title in the Welsh forests in November.

Competition was always expected to be close in Sanremo, particularly in the Junior WRC, where there are several strong Italian drivers. But the early leader wasn't a local - Belgian Ford driver Francois Duval, determined to rebuild his Junior WRC title hopes, grabbed the initial advantage and he led after SS1.

However, he was soon swamped by Dallavilla, Nicola Caldani and Basso as they charged ahead to form a thrilling battle for the lead. Dallavilla was the first to shine but as the afternoon progressed, he began to express more and more discontent with his car's handling and Caldani capitalised. He inched clear on Friday afternoon's closing stages to lead by just under four seconds at the end of the opening day. But with Basso less than 11 seconds adrift in third, it was hardly a comfortable position.

Basso started quickest on Saturday morning but it didn't take long for Dallavilla to get into his stride. A switch of shock absorbers and a change of steering rack had transformed his Saxo's handling, and he moved clear of Caldani by lunchtime. Basso's pace was also enough to move him ahead of fellow Fiat driver Caldani, and he kept within 10 seconds of Dallavilla's lead as the afternoon progressed. The top three were also having to keep an eye on series leader Daniel Sola, who was recovering strongly after a first-day puncture, and another Italian, Gianluigi Galli.

Sunday was dry and bright and with only four stages remaining, Dallavilla knew that victory could be his if he staved off an early attack from Basso. He achieved his goal, keeping his lead at around the 10-second mark and eventually winning by 9.5sec.

Sola overhauled Caldani in the closing stages to set up a winner-takes-all battle with Dallavilla on the final round of the series in November, while Galli bagged fifth and Duval - who'd struggled with brake and anti-roll bar problems - claiming the final point in sixth.

Others weren't so fortunate. Sven Haaf lost a wheel and went beyond his maximum lateness on the opening day, while Martin Rowe's Puma got stuck in third gear for two stages on the same day. He later slid off the road and out of the event. Niall McShea's Opel lost time with a broken exhaust and then electrical problems that forced the Briton to push his Corsa for more than two kilometres to reach service, and Kosti Katajamaki's VW was forced out by gearbox problems.

At the finish, Dallavilla said: "I'm obviously very pleased with the result and the fact that it gives us the lead of the championship. This was a really hard fight and I can't think of one place where there was even time to breathe in this battle. It was just full attack from start to the finish, with Basso so close to me even until the last stage this afternoon. Rally GB will not be easy but I have experience of there from last year and it's certainly better to go to the last round one point ahead than one point behind."

Only Dallavilla or Sola can now win the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, which concludes in the slippery forests of south Wales on the Rally of Great Britain on November 14-17.

Overall JWRC after SS18 - Leg three:

1.Andrea DallavillaCitroen Saxo Super 16004hours 28mins 26.4secs2.Giadomenico BassoFiat Punto Super 1600+00mins 09.6secs3.Daniel SolaCitroen Saxo Super 1600+00mins 29.7secs4.Nicola CaldaniFiat Punto Super 1600+00mins 30.1secs5.Gianluigi GalliFiat Punto Super 1600+02mins 08.2secs6.Francois DuvalFord Puma Super 1600+03mins 03.0secs7.Nikolaus SchelleSuzuki Ignis Super 1600+04mins 19.7secs8.Roger FeghaliFord Puma Super 1600+05mins 29.1secs9.Jussi ValimakiCitroen Saxo Super 1600+06mins 48.6secs10.Janne TuohinoCitroen Saxo Super 1600+07mins 52.4secs11.Niall McSheaOpel Corsa Super 1600+07mins 57.1secs12.Gwyndaf EvansMG ZR Super 1600+10mins 03.8secs