Giandomenico Basso has clinched his fifth career victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge following a scintillating battle with Andreas Mikkelsen on the 40th running of Rally San Marino.
Mikkelsen appeared to be in the ascendancy when he won Saturday’s opening stage only for Basso to hit back by going fastest on the next run. His triumph ignited a thrilling fight that ebbed and flowed with astonishing frequency, and was only settled in Basso’s favour on the very last all-gravel stage.
Such was the intensity of their scrap Basso and Mikkelsen were tied on time for first place on two occasions. At the finish in San Marino’s historic quarter on Saturday evening, just 2.8s separated the pair with Basso claiming five stage wins to Mikkelsen’s six.
The result means Basso, competing on a gravel rally for the first time in two years, becomes the fifth different winner in the IRC this season, while second place for defending IRC champion Mikkelsen increases his lead over Jan Kopecký in the race for the drivers’ crown. Basso’s success is also the first for M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta Regional Rally Car in the IRC, which enjoys extensive coverage on Eurosport.
Jarkko Nikara claimed a dominant win in the IRC Production Cup at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza R4 STI, while Harry Hunt also won with comparative ease in the IRC 2WD Cup, the former champion’s maiden triumph of 2012.
“I’m very happy,” said Basso, whose victory was his first in the IRC since 2009 and earned him the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy. “It was a fantastic race and battle with Andreas, who is a very good driver. My team has done a great job and the car and tyres have been perfect.”
Basso’s hopes of success appeared to have nosedived when he dropped 9.1s behind Mikkelsen after Saturday’s first test following a cautious run in slightly damp conditions. But with his rival losing time cleaning the road of significantly more loose surface gravel on the next two stages, Basso was able to draw level heading to service in San Marino after Mikkelsen was slowed by powersteering failure.
Mikkelsen began the afternoon loop by edging Basso by 0.3s on stage nine only for Basso to draw level once again following stage 10. The decisive stage came on the next run when Mikkelsen’s normally aspirated ŠKODA UK Motorsport Fabia Super 2000 was unable to match Basso’s turbocharged machine on the uphill sections. Basso completed the stage leading by 4.9s and although Mikkelsen was fastest on the final two tests, it wasn’t enough to prevent Basso from winning.
Umberto Scandola overcame power and handling issues to secure the final podium place in his ŠKODA Italia Fabia with ŠKODA Auto Deutschland’s Sepp Wiegand a strong fourth on his Rally San Marino debut and only his third start on gravel. The inexperienced 21-year-old impressed from the outset by recording his first stage win in the IRC. Although he gradually slipped down the order due to tyre selection, handling issues and a costly spin on Friday afternoon, it was nevertheless an impressive showing by Wiegand who has now scored points on all six IRC events he has started this season.
Juho Salo had never driven his Fiesta S2000 prior to Thursday’s shakedown. But despite his lack of familiarity with the car and a puncture on Friday afternoon, the seven-time Finnish champion marked his return to the IRC for the first time since the China Rally in 2008 by running in the top five only for a water leak to trigger his retirement heading to stage 10 after he’d spun on the previous test.
After a fuel pressure glitch left Germain Bonnefis stranded for more than seven minutes on Friday’s opening run, the 25-year-old Peugeot Sport protégé underlined his potential with a succession of rapid stage times in his Peugeot Sport 207, including a standout fastest time on stage eight. However, any hopes of a points finish on his IRC debut were dashed when a damper failed on the penultimate stage.
There was late heartbreak for Hungarian privateer János Puskádi who, after crossing the flying finish of the final stage with the fifth best time, promptly slid off the road into a ditch where he was forced to retire. Swiss Laurent Reuche was in sixth place when he tore a wheel off his Peugeot.
Patrik Flodin, from Sweden, was unable to start Friday’s second stage after water pump failure caused the engine in his Petter Solberg Engineering M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 to overheat. Oleksiy Tamrazov went no further than stage one after breaking the front-left wheel of his Dream Team Ukraine Fiesta striking a concrete block.
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