Bruno Magalhaes claimed a shock Rally Azores victory as an incredibly dramatic final loop saw disaster for Skoda give Peugeot a one-two finish
Reigning Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Kris Meeke emerged in second amid the late shocks, with Juho Hanninen losing a near-certain victory to a puncture and then his team-mate Jan Kopecky crashing out on the last stage while leading ahead of Magalhaes
Hanninen had gone into the final loop 20 seconds ahead, following a rally-long tussle with the impressive Magalhaes, whose Peugeot Portugal car dropped back towards Kopecky when an oil leak slowed him and then forced a gearbox change at the final service.
That seemed to have guaranteed Hanninen another victory, but the Finn lost nearly two minutes with a puncture on the penultimate stage, leaving Magalhaes and Kopecky to battle for the win.
It was the Skoda that emerged with the lead after SS18, with Magalhaes frustrated that he had been caught in Hanninen's dust as the Skoda rejoined following its puncture. He started the deciding 21.94-kilometre stage 6.4s behind Kopecky, but when the Czech driver went off the road and retired, it was Magalhaes who emerged as an incredibly emotional first-time winner on home ground.
Meeke salvaged a surprise second after a a difficult weekend that had seen him struggling with running first on the road on Thursday, then delayed by two punctures, illness and a spin later in the event. His engine then started losing power on the final two stages, but he continued to push and actually managed to pull away from the recovering Hanninen on the final test.
Ford driver Andreas Mikkelsen ran with the leaders on the opening evening then gradually lost time even before being delayed by a collision with a cow today and later a power steering problem. He was a distant fourth in the end.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot 2h34m00.4s 2. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 1m00.1s 3. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 1m20.7s 4. Andreas Mikkelsen Ford + 4m45.6s 5. Ricardo Moura Mitsubishi + 5m22.0s 6. Pedro Vale Mitsubishi + 10m55.3s 7. Vitor Pascoal Peugeot + 12m08.7s 8. Sergio Silva Subaru + 12m54.5s 9. Bernardo Sousa Ford + 13m09.8s 10. Ricardo Carmo Mitsubishi + 14m23.6s
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