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."

Thanks to a huge number of privately-entered 207 S2000s, Peugeot managed to fill eight of the top 10 positions. A rally-long duel between Meeke and Freddy Loix was one of the most entertaining battles that raged throughout the event for fifth place - and may well prove pivotal for the championship.

Going in to Madeira, Meeke held a six point advantage over Loix. The single point at stake in such a hard-fought series spurred a fantastic competition for fifth place, which Meeke ultimately won. Now the Briton has 34 points, Jan Kopecky has 29 and both Loix and Basso have 27.

"This is a very, very special rally," Meeke said. "To come here for the first time and win would be impossible, the top four guys were incredible and to be just over a minute behind after three hours is amazing. The points you win on a bad weekend are the ones that count the most."

For Loix, however, there was clear disappointment: "We hadn't made all our preparations before we came here so Day 1 was spent on the setup - and by the time we got that right everyone had gone!" he said. "We had to keep the pressure on Meeke but he did a great rally and that's another point to him."

Behind them came three more Peugeots - Miguel Nunes, Corrado Fontana and Michal Solowow respectively. The all-new Proton Satria Neo of Guy Wilks finished the event in 10th place overall, the team electing to focus on developing the car once it became clear that a points scoring result was not achievable.

Skoda also failed to increase its score in Madeira, despite the presence of Maurin in a Skoda Italia-prepared Fabia S2000. His challenge was thwarted on the road section to SS13 when, having lost his brakes, Maurin was powerless to avoid an accident which forced major repairs to be made overnight and restarting under superrally regulations well outside the points.

In the 2WD Cup Manuel Villa scored his second win of the season for Abarth in his Punto S1600. The Spaniard was able to contain the threat from his biggest rival in the series, Denis Millet's turbochared Peugeot 207, to take a resounding win.

The IRC now continues at the end of this month when the series head to the Czech Republic for the Barum Rally Zlin, which runs from August 21-23.

Overall times - Top 10:

1. Giandomenico BassoAbarth Grande Punto S2000 3hrs 9m 55.4s
2. Bruno MagalhaesPeugeot 207 S2000 +3.5s
3. Alex CamachoPeugeot 207 S2000 +41.7s
4. Nicolas VouillozPeugeot 207 S2000 +49.4s
5. Kris MeekePeugeot 207 S2000 +1m 21.9s
6. Freddy LoixPeugeot 207 S2000 +1m 28.4s
7. Miguel NunesPeugeot 207 S2000 +4m 57.9s
8. Corrado FontanaPeugeot 207 S2000 +5m 50.6s
9. Michal Solowow Peugeot 207 S2000 +7m 29.9s
10. Guy WilksProton Satria Neo S2000 +10m 40.8s

IRC Drivers' positions (after round 7 of 11) - Top 10:

1. Kris Meeke 34 points
2. Jan Kopecky 29 points
3. Giandomenico Basso 27 points
= Freddy Loix 27 points
5. Nicolas Vouilloz 19 points
6. Juho Hanninen 14 points
7. Sebastien Ogier 10 points
= Carl Tundo 10 points
9. Alistair Cavanagh 8 points
= Bruno Magalhaes 8 points

IRC Manufacturers' positions (after round 7 of 11):

1. Peugeot 82 points
2. Skoda 43 points
3. Ralliart 41 points
4. Abarth 34 points
5. Proton 5 points
6. Honda1 point



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