Giandomenico Basso and co-driver Lorenzo Granai took victory in a dramatic third round of the 2021 European Rally Championship, the Rally di Roma.
Škoda driver Basso had spent the first half of the event in a tight, lead-swapping battle with Andrea Crugnola, who had deposed him as Italian national champion last season.
Crugnola went into Sunday’s decisive stages with the advantage, but then picked up a puncture on SS8.
That left Basso nearly half a minute clear and he was able to protect that margin and seal victory.
Crugnola’s delay briefly put him in the sights of reigning champion and ERC points leader Alexey Lukyanuk.
But on the next stage, Lukyanuk went off the road and hit a tree. He and co-driver Alexey Arnautov were unhurt, despite their Saintéloc Citroën briefly catching fire. The incident led to the stage being red-flagged.
Third place ultimately went to an emotional Norbert Herczig, who nipped ahead of Efrén Llarena on the final stage by just 0.3s to win their battle.
There was a last-gasp change for fifth too, as Miko Marczyk boosted his title bid by grabbing that place from Fabio Andolfi, who had a spin on the last stage and only just held on to seventh ahead of Simone Tempestini.
It was a low-key rally for the ERC’s World Rally Championship regulars Andreas Mikkelsen and Craig Breen.
Mikkelsen, who was tackling the event for the first time, struggled to get comfortable with his Toksport Škoda’s set-up on the challenging event at first and ended Saturday a distant 16th, before scorching up the leaderboard to eighth on Sunday.
He ended the rally kicking himself for a final-stage spin, though, having been closing on the top six.
Breen’s focus was very much on the still-developing MRF tires as he took ninth, but he enjoyed the rally so much he said it deserved to have a spot on the WRC calendar.
Erik Cais completed the top 10 in the leading Ford, earning it by setting a blistering second-fastest time behind the charging Herczig on the last stage of the rally and gaining three places as a consequence.
1 Giandomenico Basso/Lorenzo Granai (Škoda) 1h54m06.6s
2 Andrea Crugnola/Pietro Elia Ometto (Hyundai) +35.8s
3 Norbert Herczig/Ramón Ferencz (Škoda) +40.4s
4 Efrén Llarena/Sara Fernandez (Škoda) +40.7s
5 Miko Marczyk/Szymon Gospodarczyk (Škoda) +56.2s
6 Fabio Andolfi/Stefano Savoia (Škoda) +1m04.8s
7 Simone Tempestini/Sergiu Itu (Škoda) +1m06.5s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (Škoda) +1m18.9s
9 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +1m29.1s
10 Erik Cais/J Žáková (Ford) +1m31.6s