Thierry Neuville wins thrilling Sanremo showdown with Andreas Mikkelsen
||Saturday, September 24th 2011, 15:25 GMT
Thierry Neuville clinched the second Intercontinental Rally Challenge victory of his short career in an incredible last-stage showdown with Andreas Mikkelsen in Sanremo after Freddy Loix crashed out.
BFO Skoda driver Loix's accident while leading three stages from the end turned what had been a three-way fight into a head to head shoot-out between rising stars Neuville (Kronos Peugeot) and Mikkelsen (Skoda UK), the latter still hunting for his maiden win after crashing within sight of victory in Hungary two weeks ago.
Mikkelsen had led the first half of the rally, but could not shake off Loix or Neuville.
Loix nosed ahead on Friday night's long stage, lost the lead on Saturday's opener, then reclaimed it just before the midday service.
But on the first stage of the final loop, Loix crashed out. The Belgian and his co-driver Frederic Miclotte were both unhurt, but with following crews having to stop to assist with the clear-up, the stage had to be cancelled.
Neuville had been surging forward throughout today's stages, and when the action resumed on SS12, a stage victory saw him grab the lead for the first time, just 0.3s ahead of Mikkelsen. He then stretched that gap by another 1.2s on the Colle d'Oggia decider to add a Sanremo win to his Corsica success earlier this year.
Bryan Bouffier never entirely lost touch with the leaders, but never had the pace to fight for victory either. He finished third for Peugeot France.
It was a low-key weekend for championship leader Jan Kopecky (Skoda). He fought off a mid-rally challenge from Peugeot Portugal's Bruno Magalhaes and leading local driver Umberto Scandola's Car Racing Ford to clinch a lonely fourth.
Peugeot UK driver Guy Wilks' tough season took another downward turn as he crashed out on the very first stage. Series returnee Chris Atkinson was also an almost-immediate retirement when his Proton stopped with an electrical failure on SS1.
Leading finishers after SS13:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Thierry Neuville Kronos/Peugeot Belux 2h19m57.8s
2. Andreas Mikkelsen Skoda UK + 1.5s
3. Bryan Bouffier PH/Peugeot France + 16.0s
4. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 1m09.1s
5. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot Portugal + 1m26.0s
6. Alessandro Perico PA Peugeot + 3m47.8s
7. Umberto Scandola Car Ford + 4m05.9s
8. Pierre Campana Munaretto Peugeot + 4m28.0s
9. Toni Gardemeister TGS Skoda + 5m24.1s
10. Giandomenico Basso Proton + 7m26.9s
Freddy Loix BFO Skoda SS11
Guy Wilks Kronos/Peugeot UK SS1
Chris Atkinson Proton SS1