Juho Hanninen has reduced Bruno Magalhaes' lead in the Rally Azores to just 2.2 seconds going into the final day
Hanninen mounted a charge on today's third loop just as Magalhaes (Peugeot Portugal) began to lose confidence in his car - which he later traced to a puncture that had developed on SS11. He changed the tyres before SS12, then struggled with a wheel imbalance.
With Skoda driver Hanninen winning the day's final stage, the pair go into Saturday's deciding seven stages with just 2.2s between them.
Hanninen's pace took him past his team-mate Jan Kopecky on SS8, although the Czech driver is also within 8.2s of Magalhaes' lead.
Kris Meeke's tough rally continued as in addition to a worsening fever, he also suffered his second puncture of the day on SS10.
That dropped the Peugeot UK entry back to fifth place behind Andreas Mikkelsen's Ford - and Meeke was unable to regain the position on the next stage, which means he has the added disadvantage of running first on the road tomorrow when the top five are reversed in the starting order. Meeke reckoned, however, that even if he had a trouble-free run, the works Skodas were now a class apart.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot 1h28m35.8s 2. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 2.2s 3. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 8.2s 4. Andreas Mikkelsen Ford + 48.9s 5. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 51.7s 6. Bernardo Sousa Ford + 2m23.6s 7. Ricardo Moura Mitsubishi + 3m38.6s 8. Pedro Peres Mitsubishi + 6m28.6s 9. Pedro Vale Mitsubishi + 6m55.9s 10. Sergio Silva Subaru + 7m08.8s
The fifth Intercontinental Rally Challenge was the best yet, and it was Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen who emerged as champion from a tense five-way shootout at the season finale. Matt Beer reviews the season