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Azores ERC: Sousa defeats Abbring in final-stage shootout

Bernardo Sousa, Azores ERC 2014

Bernardo Sousa won his home round of the European Rally Championship on Rally Azores, after a pulsating duel with Peugeot's Kevin Abbring that was only decided on the final stage.

Abbring's Peugeot 208 T16 went onto the final stage, the second run of the day through the twisty Tronqueira test, 5.1 seconds behind Sousa's Ford Fiesta RRC.

It was the same 21.3km stage that had proved to be Abbring's downfall on the final morning, when he went off twice, losing the best part of 20s to Sousa, who had held a narrow lead overnight.

Abbring spent the rest of the day clawing back the gap, while Sousa tried to gauge his pace to keep the young Dutchman behind him.

But Sousa won the final stage by 1.1s to confirm his overall win by 6.2s. Abbring was also left to rue the 10s of road penalties he picked up for starting Friday's final stage late due to fixing his broken alternator and power steering belt.

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"I'm speechless," said Sousa, who almost did not start the event after a misfire wrecked his qualifying run, which forced him into running first on the road.

"Stage by stage we believed it was possible. The local fans were pushing and cheering me on. This is a dream come true, one of my favourite rallies.

"I've been blown away by mistakes of mine here before, so this win means a lot."

Abbring was left to rue what should have been victory, but for a series of mechanical and self-imposed mistakes.

"I had a nice pace in the second loop," he said after the final stage. "But the car surprised me a few times this morning. I tried."

Jean-Michel Raoux finished third in his Peugeot 207, but was almost eight minutes off the pace.

Vasily Gryazin crashed his Fiesta on the penultimate stage when on course for the final podium spot, and finished some 25 minutes behind the leaders after getting stranded in a ditch.

Abbring's Peugeot team-mate Craig Breen retired from the lead with a wiring loom fire on Friday. Championship leader Esapekka Lappi's Skoda squad skipped the event.

Leading finishers after SS17:

Pos  Driver             Team/Car             Time/Gap
 1.  Bernardo Sousa     AT Ford            2h43m56.7s
 2.  Kevin Abbring      Sainteloc Peugeot       +6.2s
 3.  Jean-Michel Raoux  Munaretto Peugeot    +7m51.9s
 4.  Robert Consani     Delta Peugeot        +9m18.8s
 5.  Luis Rego          Mitsubishi          +10m07.5s
 6.  Ricardo Teodosio   Mitsubishi          +10m11.2s
 7.  Ruben Rodrigues    Mitsubishi          +10m15.8s
 8.  Giacomo Costenaro  Delta Peugeot       +10m21.9s
 9.  Antonin Tlustak    AT Skoda            +11m15.5s
10.  Pedro Vale         Subaru              +11m39.1s
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