Juho Hanninen pulled away from nearest rival Andreas Mikkelsen over the closing stages to win Rally Azores.
Mikkelsen had closed up to be just 1.3 seconds behind Hanninen going into the final day's five stages. The Skoda UK driver was then four seconds quicker than the factory Skoda Motorsport driver through the opening test SS13 to take the lead of the rally.
Hanninen then regained the lead on SS14 after flying through the stage 13.9s quicker than Mikkelsen or anybody else. Mikkelsen then won the SS15 superspecial, but was only three tenths quicker than Hanninen. This gave the Finn a lead of 10.9s heading to the service break prior to the final two stages.
Mikkelsen dropped 17.6s to his rival through the penultimate stage SS16, conceding that he was now settling for second place. Hanninen extended his lead to 42.3s on the final stage to secure the victory.
Jan Kopecky finished third to complete a 1-2-3 result for Skoda, having taken the position from last year's rally winner Bruno Magalhaes by winning the opening stage of the day. Magalhaes retired his Peugeot Sport Portugal 207 before the next stage after suffering transmission failure.
Bryan Bouffier moved up into fourth place after Magalhaes' retirement and stayed there until the finish, some three and a half minutes off the lead. Patrik Sandell recorded his best IRC finish yet in fifth place for Skoda Sweden, after getting ahead of local star Ricardo Moura at the start of the day.
Moura finished sixth, taking the Production Cup honours in his Mitsubishi. He was three and a half minutes ahead of his nearest rival Vitor Lopes, who came home seventh overall. Vitor Pascoal was eighth ahead of Sergio Silva.
Paulo Maciel completed the top ten in his Citroen Saxo, claiming the 2WD Cup win. He finished just one tenth of a second ahead of Fumio Nutahara in his R4-spec Subaru.
Hanninen's victory is enough for him to regain the standings lead in the absence of Freddy Loix. He is four points ahead of Bouffier, with Loix and Kopecky tied for third a further nine points adrift. The next round of the IRC is Rally Zlin in the Czech Republic on 26-28 August.
Final top ten positions after 17 stages:
|1||2||Juho Hanninen||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda Fabia S2000||2:19:03.8|
|2||5||Andreas Mikkelsen||Skoda UK||Skoda Fabia S2000||+42.3|
|3||3||Jan Kopecky||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda Fabia S2000||+1:46.0|
|4||1||Bryan Bouffier||Peugeot France||Peugeot 207 S2000||+3:36.2|
|5||6||Patrik Sandell||Skoda Sweden||Skoda Fabia S2000||+4:33.3|
|6||9||Ricardo Moura||Privateer||Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX||+6:07.0|
|7||15||Vitor Lopes||Privateer||Subaru Impreza Sti||+9:52.1|
|8||16||Vitor Pascoal||Privateer||Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X||+12:47.3|
|9||19||Sergio Silva||Privateer||Subaru Impreza Sti||+14:00.3|
|10||20||Paolo Maciel||Privateer||Citroen Saxo VTS||+18:10.7|
Drivers’ standings after 6 of 11 rounds:
1. Juho Hanninen, 83
2. Bryan Bouffier, 79
3. Freddy Loix, 70
4. Jan Kopecky, 70
5. Thierry Neuville, 48
6. Andreas Mikkelsen, 46