Andreas Mikkelsen has taken a huge step towards claiming his first victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge after completing Saturday's all-action stages of the RACMSA Rally of Scotland with a commanding lead in his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia Super 2000.
The 22-year old Norwegian was in sixth overall, 6.8secs behind Peugeot UK's Guy Wilks, following the two runs through Carron Valley on Friday night, but narrowed the gap to 3.5secs by beating the Briton on Saturday's opening Craigvinean test before moving ahead when he again bettered his rival's time through Drummond Hill. When Wilks spun into a ditch at high speed on stage five, Errochty - one of two stages shown live on Eurosport
, Mikkelsen moved into a lead of almost 30 seconds.
"It's been a really good day for us," Mikkelsen admitted, "The conditions have been very difficult, but I've actually found a lot of confidence. We pushed quite hard today and had a few small moments, including one at the beginning of stage five. We have a nice lead now, but it's still a long way to go tomorrow that we cannot back off
"If you ease off a little, it's easy to lose a lot of time – and it's also easy to lose your concentration. I want to continue at a good pace and try to maintain our lead to the finish.”
By claiming two further stage wins in the afternoon amid increasingly treacherous stage conditions that caused the final test to be cancelled, Mikkelsen was able to grow his advantage to 50.7secs over Peugeot France's Bryan Bouffier, who took a stage win during a faultless performance.
"I am happy with this position for sure, but behind they are very close so tomorrow it won't be easy," Bouffier noted, "The conditions have been very difficult but the car has been very good. I have to be pleased."
Juho Hanninen, the defending IRC champion and last year's Rally of Scotland winner, is third overnight for the factory Skoda Motorsport team following a troubled morning caused by a lack of traction and feeling on the slippery stages. Set-up changes at midday service triggered an upturn in form, although the Finn is 51.7secs behind Mikkelsen overnight in third.
"The morning was not so good but the afternoon was much better," Hanninen reported, "I changed the car in the service by making the differential more stiff to give me more traction and after that I felt much better."
Thierry Neuville slipped to fourth on the second run through Errochty after spinning twice in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207. A relative gravel novice, the 23-year old spent much of the day in second position, but was delayed by more than 20secs as he struggled to select reverse gear following his second rotation in the increasingly heavy rain.