IRC: Flying Mikkelsen holds lead in Scotland
9 October 2011
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.
Irish rising star Craig Breen is an impressive fifth in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 with Patrik Sandell a strong sixth for Skoda Sweden. Jan Kopecky, the IRC title leader, is a distant seventh on his Rally of Scotland debut. The Czech admitted to struggling to adapt to the treacherous conditions on a rare outing on gravel.
Behind IRC Production Cup leader Jarkko Nikara, Toni Gardemeister is ninth with PG Andersson eleventh for Proton Motorsports. The Swede had excelled throughout the morning with a succession of rapid stage times to the extent he was fourth overall after stage five. However, an electrical glitch delayed his departure from the Perth regroup and the addition of 2min 20secs of time penalties has dropped him out of contention for a possible podium.
Toshi Arai is twelfth overall in his R4-specification Subaru Impreza with Matthias Kahle 14th at the wheel of his SKODA Auto Deutschland Fabia. The multiple German rally champion is one of several Rally of Scotland newcomers and admitted his lack of knowledge of the demanding terrain is masking his true pace.
In the battle for IRC 2WD Cup honours, Honda Civic Type R driver Martin Kangur leads from defending champion Harry Hunt and Jean-Michel Raoux, currently second in the class standings. Mark Donnelly was leading but dropped out with engine failure. Although David Bogie remains firmly in contention for IRC Production Cup glory, it's been a frustrating day for several home-grown talents. Englishman Wilks was in the fight for first place when he spun into a ditch and got stuck for more than five minutes. He holds 15th overnight, but Scottish favourite Alister McRae retired his Proton Satria Neo from the top ten when a rock holed the car's sump and depleted the oil supply on the first run through Errochty.
“I was pushing like hell and pushed too hard and made a mistake,” Wilks admitted, “The car ended up beached and it took us several minutes to get it out. I'm massively disappointed as we can't now get the result we wanted.”
Alastair Fisher, from Northern Ireland, was seventh when a front-right driveshaft failure left his Fiesta in rear-wheel-drive only for two stages this morning. He has recovered to 13th place. Two punctures and a broken wheel delayed Welsh driver Jason Pritchard, while Burcu Cetinkaya, who became the first female driver to score IRC points when she finished Rally of Scotland in eighth overall last season, is 24th after making her return to the series this weekend.