*Fifth series victory for Italian and first for M-Sports Ford Fiesta RRC in the IRC
*Mikkelsen extends title lead as Nikara and Hunt claim support category spoils
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 Saturdays 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 Bassos 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 Marinos historic quarter on Saturday evening, just 2.8s separated the pair with Basso claiming five stage wins to Mikkelsens 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. Bassos success is also the first for M-Sports 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 champions maiden triumph of 2012.
Im 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.
Bassos hopes of success appeared to have nosedived when he dropped 9.1s behind Mikkelsen after Saturdays 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 Mikkelsens normally aspirated KODA UK Motorsport Fabia Super 2000 was unable to match Bassos 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 wasnt enough to prevent Basso from winning.
Umberto Scandola overcame power and handling issues to secure the final podium place in his KODA Italia Fabia with KODA Auto Deutschlands 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 Thursdays 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 hed spun on the previous test.
After a fuel pressure glitch left Germain Bonnefis stranded for more than seven minutes on Fridays 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 Fridays 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.
IRC Production Cup
Jarkko Nikara upheld Subaru honour with his maiden IRC Production Cup victory by a margin of more than four minutes over the Hungarian Gergély Szabó. Nikara, in a Yokohama-shod Tommi Mäkinen Racing R4 STI, led from the outset and apart from a stall at a hairpin on Saturday morning, little troubled the Finn on his way to a strong fifth overall. Marco Tempestini took third but only after overcoming a fraught final day, when he was delayed by a puncture, a broken brake calliper and a brief car fire. However, Tempestini will be able to take heart from his battling performance ahead of his home round of the IRC in Romania later this month. Defending champion Toshi Arai from Japan was in second place when a ball joint failed on his Impreza heading to stage four.
IRC 2WD Cup
Not even an enforced gearbox change following an oil leak on Fridays final stage could knock Harry Hunt off his stride as the Briton scored an impressive category win to move clear in the title race. Hunt, the 2010 class champion, drove without error and preserved his car and tyres perfectly over the gravel stages, which became increasingly rough as the event drew to a close. Paolo Diana took second ahead of fellow Italian Renault Clio R3 driver Oscar Vettore. Catwees Honda Racings young Estonian Martin Kangur started the event in the joint lead of the standings with Hunt only for his Civic Type Rs powersteering to falter. There was late drama for Robert Consani who retired his Clio on the very last stage having looked set for a podium finish.
TOP 10 IRC POSITIONS: RALLY SAN MARINO (5-7 JULY)
1 Giandomenico Basso (ITA)/Mitia Dotta (ITA) M-Sport Ford Fiesta RRC 2h35m56.6s
2 Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Ola Fløene (NOR) KODA Fabia S2000 +2.8s
3 Umberto Scandola (ITA)/Guido DAmore (ITA) KODA Fabia S2000 +1m41.6s
4 Sepp Wiegand (GER)/Timo Gottschalk (GER) KODA Fabia S2000 +2m06.2s
5 Jarkko Nikara (FIN)/Jarkko Kalliolepo (FIN) Subaru Impreza R4 STI +6m12.2s
6 Gergély Szabó (HUN)/Borbely Karoly (HUN) Ralliart Lancer Evolution X +10m15.6s
7 Marco Tempestini (ROM)/Dorin Pulpea (ROM) Subaru Impreza R4 STI +13m22.6s
8 Gabriele Noberasco (ITA)/Daniele Michi (ITA) Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX +13m47.9s
9 Miklós Bujdos (HUN)/András Benkő (HUN) Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX +14m03.0s
10 Paolo Diana (ITA)/Andrea Mini (ITA) Renault Clio R3 +15m56.7s
IRC Production Cup: Jarkko Nikara (FIN)/Jarkko Kalliolepo (FIN) Subaru Impreza R4 STI
IRC 2WD Cup: Harry Hunt (GBR)/Robbie Durant (GBR) Citroën DS3 R3T
IRC STANDINGS (BEST OF EIGHT SCORES COUNT, ALL POINTS PROVISIONAL)
IRC drivers after round seven of 13
1 Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) 107pts; 2 Jan Kopecký (Czech Republic) 83pts; 3 Juho Hänninen (Finland) 68pts; 4 Sepp Wiegand (Germany) 52pts; 5 Giandomenico Basso (Italy) 40pts; 6 Bryan Bouffier (France) and Umberto Scandola (Italy) 27pts; 8 Dani Sordo (Spain) 25pts; 9 Craig Breen (Ireland) and Freddy Loix (Belgium) 18pts.
IRC co-drivers after round seven of 13
1 Ola Fløene (Norway) 107pts; 2 Pavel Dresler (Czech Republic) 83pts; 3 Mikko Markkula (Finland) 68pts; 4 Timo Gottschalk (Germany) 52pts; 5 Mitia Dotta (Italy) 40pts; 6 Guido DAmore (Italy) and Xavier Panseri (France) 27pts; 8 Carlos del Barrio (Spain) 25pts; 9 Gareth Roberts (United Kingdom) and Lara Vanneste (Belgium) 18pts.
IRC manufacturers after round seven of 13
1 KODA 282pts; 2 Peugeot 154pts; 3 M-Sport 84pts; 4 Renault 64pts; 5 Subaru 63pts; 6 Honda 28pts.
IRC Production Cup drivers after round seven of 13
1 Andreas Aigner (Austria) 50pts; 2 Marco Tempestini (Romania) 48pts; 3 Robert Consani (France) 47pts; 4 Garry Jennings (United Kingdom), Ricardo Moura (Portugal), Jarkko Nikara (Finland) and Massimiliano Rendina 25pts; 8 Johan Heloïse (France) 22pts; 9 Toshi Arai (Japan), Bob Colsoul (France), Donagh Kelly (Ireland), Sérgio Silva (Portugal) and Gergély Szabó (Hungary) 18pts.
IRC Production Cup co-drivers after round seven of 13
1 Daniela Ertl (Austria) 50pts; 2 Dorin Pulpea (Romania) 48pts; 3 Nicolas Klinger (France) 47pts; 4 Sancho Eiró (Portugal), Jarkko Kalliolepo (Finland), Barry McNulty (United Kingdom) and Mario Pizzuti (Italy) 25pts; 8 Thibault Gorczyca (France) 22pts; 9 Tom Colsoul (France), Kevin Flanagan (Ireland), Borbely Karoly (Hungary), Dale Moscatt (Australia) and Fernando Nunes (Portugal) 18pts.
IRC 2WD Cup drivers after round seven of 13
1 Harry Hunt (United Kingdom) 58pts; 2 Martin Kangur (Estonia) 33pts; 3 Petru-Antone Boschetti (France), Simone Campedelli (Italy), Robert Consani (France), Paulo Maciel (Portugal), Marty McCormack (United Kingdom) and Joan Vinyes (Spain) 25pts; 9 Gorka Antxustegui (Spain), Melissa Debackere (Belgium), François Delecour (France), Paolo Diana (Italy), Tommy Doyle (Ireland) and Énio Medeiros (Portugal) 18pts.
IRC 2WD Cup co-drivers after round seven of 13
1 Robbie Durant (United Kingdom) 58pts; 2 Danilo Fapani (Italy), Filipe Gouveia (Portugal), Nicolas Klinger (France), Benoit Manzo (France), Jordi Mercader (Spain), David Moynihan (Ireland) and Andres Ots (Estonia) 25pts; 9 Cindy Cokelaere (Belgium), Andrea Mini (Italy), Liam Moynihan (Ireland), Paulo Rego (Portugal), Dominique Savignoni (France) and Gabriel Suarez (Spain) 18pts.
IRC 2WD Cup manufacturers after round seven of 13
1 Renault 219pts; 2 Honda 83pts; 3 M-Sport 60pts; 4 Peugeot 41pts; 5 KODA 8pts.
Go to www.ircseries.com for full standings, including IRC Production Cup and IRC 2WD Cup.
SS1-2: Sepp Wiegand
SS3-7: Andreas Mikkelsen
SS8: Andreas Mikkelsen and Giandomenico Basso
SS9: Andreas Mikkelsen
SS10: Andreas Mikkelsen and Giandomenico Basso
SS11-13: Giandomenico Basso
Day one (Friday 6 July):
SS1: Sestino 1 (19.33kms): Wiegand/Stage cancelled for IRC Production and 2WD Cup crews
SS2: Mercatello 1 (24.15kms): Basso/Nikara/Hunt
SS3: Sestino 2 (19.33kms): Basso/Nikara/Hunt
SS4: Mercatello 2 (24.15kms): Mikkelsen/Nikara/Hunt
SS5: San Marino (6.43kms): Mikkelsen/Nikara/Diana
Day two (Saturday 7 July):
SS6: Monte Benedetto 1 (6.82kms): Mikkelsen/Nikara/Consani
SS7: Rofelle 1 (15.85kms): Basso/Nikara/Diana
SS8: Sant Agata Feltria 1 (14.45kms): Bonnefis/Nikara/Hunt
SS9: Monte Benedetto 2 (6.82kms): Mikkelsen/Nikara/Consani
SS10: Rofelle 2 (15.85kms): Basso/Nikara/Hunt
SS11: Sant Agata Feltria 2 (14.45kms): Basso/Nikara/Diana
SS12: Monte Benedetto 3 (6.82kms): Mikkelsen/Mattei/Diana
SS13: Rofelle 3 (15.85kms): Mikkelsen/Mattei/Diana
IRC rally wins in 2012 (drivers)
Juho Hänninen 2; Jan Kopecký 2; Giandomenico Basso 1; Andreas Mikkelsen 1; Dani Sordo 1.
IRC rally wins in 2012 (manufacturers)
KODA 5; MINI 1 (note: MINI is not currently eligible for IRC manufacturers points); M-Sport Ford 1.
IRC stage wins in 2012 (drivers)
Andreas Mikkelsen 36; Juho Hänninen 23; Jan Kopecký 17; Giandomenico Basso 7; Freddy Loix 5; Dani Sordo 3; Pierre Campana 2; Germain Bonnefis 1; Bryan Bouffier 1; Sepp Wiegand 1.
Stage wins in 2012 (manufacturers)
KODA 77; Peugeot 9; M-Sport Ford 7; MINI 3.
Go to www.ircseries.com for more information.
Sibiu Rally Romania, 19-21 July