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IRC: Mikkelsen returns to winning ways in Romania
22 July 2012
Andreas Mikkelsen and co-driver Ola Fløene have claimed Škoda's 25th victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge with a dominant performance on the Sibiu Rally, which finished in Romania's picturesque Transylvania region this evening.
Mikkelsen, driving a Škoda UK Motorsport Fabia Super 2000, led from Friday's opening stage and drove without fault to claim his second win of the season, a result that puts him 49 points clear in his bid to become the first driver to secure back-to-back IRC titles.
Sepp Wiegand was on course for his maiden IRC podium when broken right-rear suspension forced his retirement on stage ten. The Škoda Auto Deutschland driver's misfortune promoted Patrik Flodin to second place after the Petter Solberg Engineering driver had fought back from 45th position following early delays. His heroics earned him the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy.
François Delecour completed the podium after the 49-year-old French legend overcame a spate of damper failures in his Munaretto Sport Peugeot 207 Super 2000. Delecour was also able to celebrate finishing as the leading Romanian championship runner. Vitaliy Puskhar claimed his first IRC Production Cup event win, while Robert Consani bagged his maiden success in the IRC 2WD Cup after former champion Harry Hunt hit trouble in the closing stages while leading.
Mikkelsen began day two with a comfortable 2min 44.1secs margin having won all seven stages on Friday and by profiting when several of his key rivals suffered significant time loss. Although Wiegand topped Saturday's opener, Mikkelsen wasn't flustered, citing his cautious approach – and his decision to carry two spare tyres compared to one on Friday – for his small drop off in pace.
The Norwegian was less circumspect on the mixed-surface Șanta Max run that followed to go fastest before a front-right puncture five kilometres from the finish of stage ten helped Flodin to a first stage best. But two further stage wins in the afternoon, including the event-closing superspecial on the outskirts of Sibui, ensured a comfortable winning margin of more than five and a half minutes, an IRC record.
“We won with a good margin, but it was a very tough event,” said Mikkelsen, “The roads were very rough and for us it was a case of taking no risks and driving to avoid all the big rocks, especially after we'd opened up a big gap by the end of day one. This victory is a fantastic feeling for the whole Škoda UK Motorsport team, and if it wasn't for their great work I wouldn't be here. We've been so close in the last rounds with a lot of second places, so it's great to be back on the top step of the podium.”
Flodin completed day one in sixth place and frustrated after a costly puncture on stage two – caused by a broken wheel rim – and the significant delay encountered in the dust clouds that proved such a menace on stages four and seven. But a brace of top-two stage times on Saturday morning rejuvenated the Swede who moved into third when Delecour had to drive through stage nine with a broken front-right shock absorber. Flodin suffered problems of his own on day two, with a broken driveshaft and powersteering glitch affecting his pace through stage eleven. However, with Delecour suffering more broken shock absorber woes, Flodin's second place was never truly threatened.
Wiegand was almost 2m40s clear in second place when he picked up a puncture on stage ten. Rather than stopping to change the damaged wheel the 21-year-old rising star elected to carry only for his car's right-rear shock absorber to break and force his retirement when a connection failed.
Having been plagued by a spate of punctures on day one, Swiss Michaël Burri was hoping for a change of fortune on Saturday. Instead, an errant stone broke the timing belt on his Saintéloc Racing Peugeot 207, which caused the car's engine to fail. His team-mate Mathieu Arzeno didn't restart following his stage-two exit due to a crack being discovered in the shock absorber top mounting.
Marco Tempestini was in seventh place when his privateer Fabia suffered clutch failure. Dan Girtofan continued under restart rules on day two and set some impressive times in his ŠKODA Romania-backed entry. A broken right-rear wheel ended Gergély Szabó's challenge after stage eight. The Hungarian had run as high as second in his Eurosol Fabia, which he was using in competition for the first time.
Valeriy Pushkar impressed with his maiden IRC Production Cup win after fighting back from a double puncture on Saturday's opener. Valentin Porcisteanu started the day leading the category as the top Romanian driver when disaster struck on stage nine.
“After three kilometers from the start we got a puncture and it damaged the steering,” he said. “Then the car fell down from the jack, later Vitaliy passed us and we didn't see anything in the dust.”
Porcisteanu eventually finished third in class behind team-mate Edwin Keleti. Slovenian lady driver Aska Zupanc took fourth with Bogdan Marisca fifth and Marius Klein sixth. Title leader Andreas Aigner did not restart in his Stohl Racing Subaru Impreza R4 STI following his exit on stage two with broken suspension.
Robert Consani landed his first victory in the IRC 2WD Cup in a hugely impressive sixth overall at the wheel of his Renault Clio R3. The French ace trailed Harry Hunt by almost a minute with three stages remaining but took advantage when Hunt was slowed by a broken right-rear shock absorber, which caused two punctures and his rear brakes to falter. Despite the numerous setbacks Hunt fought his way to the finish in second with Vlad Cosma third and Alexandru Filip fourth in another Clio R3. Serban Tomita gave Honda reason to celebrate by heading home category regular Davide Catania in ninth place. The Japanese make's lead driver Martin Kangur was a favourite for victory but a succession of punctures wrecked his hopes, which were finally ended when a rock broke his Civic Type R's fuel tank on Friday's final run. He elected not to restart on day two. Sibiu Rally - Top 10 IRC positions (after day two)
1 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene
Škoda Fabia S2000 2h15m28.0s
2 Patrik Flodin/Göran Bergsten
M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +5m33.8s
3 François Delecour/Dominique
Savignoni Peugeot 207 S2000 +11m56.9s
4 Vitaliy Pushkar/Ivan Mishyn
Ralliart Lancer Evolution X +13m57.2s
5 Edwin Keleti/Botond Csomortani
Ralliart Lancer Evolution X +14m45.6s
6 Robert Consani/Cédric Beynet
Renault Clio R3 +17m26.7s
7 Valentin Porcisteanu/Daniel Dobre
Ralliart Lancer Evolution X +18m04.6s
8 Asja Zupanc/Spela Trcek
Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX +21m14.0s
9 Bogdan Marisca/Sebastian Itu
Ralliart Lancer IX +21m43.3s
10 Alexandru Filip/Bogdan Iancu
Renault Clio R3 +24m39.1s IRC Production Cup:
Vitaliy Pushkar/Ivan Mishyn Ralliart Lancer Evolution XIRC 2WD Cup:
Robert Consani/Cédric Beynet Renault Clio R3 IRC Standings (after round 8 of 13) - Top Ten*
1 Andreas Mikkelsen 132pts
2 Jan Kopecký 83pts
3 Juho Hänninen 68pts
4 Sepp Wiegand 52pts
5 Giandomenico Basso 40pts
6 Patrik Flodin 28pts
7 Bryan Bouffier 27pts
= Umberto Scandola 27pts
9 Dani Sordo 25pts
10 Craig Breen 18pts
= Freddy Loix 18pts
IRC Manufacturers standings (after round eight of 13)
1 Škoda 307pts
2 Peugeot 169pts
3 M-Sport 102pts
4 Renault 86pts
5 Subaru 63pts
6 Honda 36pts