Kris Meeke has clinched the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge title with a superb victory for Peugeot UK on the Rally Sanremo
The Briton's championship lead over Skoda rival Jan Kopecky had shrunk to just one point going into the rally after the Czech driver's recent surge.
But Kopecky crashed early in Italy, and with Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle then charging through the field to win the event, the Peugeot man was able to secure the crown before next month's season finale in Scotland.
Kopecky had led after SS1 on Friday night, but an error on the next stage left him with rally-ending damage to his Skoda Fabia.
That left local stars Paolo Andreucci (Racing Lions Peugeot) and Luca Rossetti (Abarth) to battle for victory, with the latter moving ahead on today's first stage.
But after slowing briefly with a brake fire on Friday night, Meeke had crept ever closer to the Italian duo - and then vaulted from third to first with an astounding time on SS6.
Despite more brake scares, he was able to hold on to the lead for the rest of the rally and duly wrapped up the title.
Rossetti took second ahead of Renato Travaglia's Island Peugeot, with Andreucci falling back to sixth behind factory Peugeot pair Nicolas Vouilloz and Freddy Loix - the top six all within half a minute at the end of the close-fought event.
Skoda had to be content with eighth place for Juho Hanninen, who admitted to struggling on the asphalt surface.
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