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."
Meanwhile, Peugeot UK's Kris Meeke, the outgoing IRC champion and last year's Sanremo winner, thought he'd done enough for third place only for Freddy Loix, in the third factory Fabia, to beat his time on the final stage and take third place by 4.2 seconds.
"I did not have the best feeling with my car like I had on the other rallies and the poor road position I was given for the first five stages made it very difficult. To take third is a good achievement," Loix stated.
Bryan Bouffier dropped out of fifth place when he picked up a front-left puncture on stage eight and lost more than three minutes after initially attempting to drive through the test with the flat tyre before stopping to change. He eventually made it home in 12th.
Guy Wilks started day two in 12th overall after losing time on Friday's final test by selecting a wet weather tyre in the mistaken belief that the road would be damper than it was. However, the Skoda UK Motorsport driver's challenge ended after seven kilometres of Saturday's first stage when he slid into a low wall and damaged the left-rear corner of his Fabia S2000 to the extent he was unable to continue.
Behind Rossetti, Kopecky and the unfortunate Basso in fifth, sixth and seventh, Thierry Neuville landed the final IRC drivers' point in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207 following a mature drive, which culminated in him demoting Italian veteran Gianfranco Cunico on the final stage. Cunico won in Sanremo in 1993 and admitted he is still acclimatising to his 207, which he was using for a second time.
Peugeot Sport Portugal's Bruno Magalahes completed the top 10 on his return to the IRC after missing the last round in Czech Republic. With limited experience of the various tyre compounds available to him, it was a strong performance by the 30-year-old.
Local hero Sandro Sottile won the IRC 2WD Cup in his Honda Civic Type-R, while Briton Harry Hunt bagged his second points of the season in seventh place in his Fiesta R2.
The IRC now continues in three weeks time, with the RACMSA Rally of Scotland, running from October 15-17.
Sanremo Rally - Top ten (after leg two)
1. Paolo Andreucci/Anna Andreussi (Peugeot 207 S2000) 2h35m32.7s
2. Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula (Skoda Fabia S2000) +4.4s
3. Freddy Loix/Frederic Miclotte (Skoda Fabia S2000) +34.1s
4. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Peugeot 207 S2000) +38.3s
5. Luca Rossetti/Matteo Chiarcossi (Abarth Grande Punto S2000) +1m21.0s
6. Jan Kopecky/Petr Stary (Skoda Fabia S2000) +1m59.9s
7. Giandomenico Basso/Mitia Dotta (Abarth Grande Punto S2000) +2m17.9s
8. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Klinger (Peugeot 207 S2000) +2m35.0s
9. Gianfranco Cunico/Rudy Pollet (Peugeot 207 S2000) +2m42.8s
10. Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes (Peugeot 207 S2000) +2m43.9s
Leading IRC 2WD Cup finishers: Sandro Sottile/Luca Constantini (Honda Civic Type-R)
Drivers' standings (after round 10 of 12)#
1. Juho Hanninen 58pts
2. Jan Kopecky 47pts
3. Freddy Loix 36pts
4. Kris Meeke 33pts
5. Bruno Magalhaes 30pts
6. Guy Wilks 27pts
7. Paolo Andreucci 18pts
8. Andreas Mikkelsen 13pts
9. Thierry Neuville 12pts
10. Mikko Hirvonen 10pts
Manufacturers' standings (after round 10 of 12):#
1. Skoda 120pts
2. Peugeot 87pts
3. M-Sport 31pts
4. Ralliart 22pts
5. Subaru 11pts
# Note: Best seven results count