Andreas Mikkelsen has completed a dramatic opening day of the Cyprus Rally leading the Intercontinental Rally Challenge qualifier and firmly on course for the coveted title in his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia Super 2000.
The 22-year-old started Friday's opening test with a 3.1s advantage following his fastest time on Thursday night's LTV Super Special Stage through the streets of Pafos, which attracted thousands of spectators.
Co-driven by Ola Floene, Mikkelsen grew that margin to 8.0s with the quickest run on stage two only for a spin - and a charging drive by Thierry Neuville - to drop him behind his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg title rival on the very next test.
But second became first when Neuville suffered a right-rear puncture on stage four before he was slowed by an alternator fault that would ultimately force his retirement from the day.
However, there were no such problems for Mikkelsen who charged to his third stage win of the day with a rapid run through stage five, one of two tests shown live on Eurosport
during the day, to hold an overnight lead of 20.7s.
“It's been a really good day for us and I have to be very happy,” said Mikkelsen, who is currently on course for 50 points as double points will be awarded in Cyprus. “But there's a long way to go and day two will be difficult. I need to do everything to keep Nasser behind me if I am to win the title.”
While Mikkelsen reflected on a strong opening day held in glorious Cypriot sunshine though, defending IRC champion Juho Hanninen was left to rue a 'stupid mistake' that caused him to crash on the second corner of Friday's first test and end his hopes of a second title in a row: “I was too fast for the corner, ran wide and rolled,” said the factory Skoda ace.
Hanninen's Skoda team-mate Jan Kopecky enjoyed better fortune, reaching the overnight halt in third position 25.4s behind Nasser Al-Attiyah, the winner in Cyprus in 2010. Kopecky, who is being co-driven by Pavel Dresler after his regular navigator Petr Stary fell ill in the build-up to the event, admitted he was being too cautious in his bid to defend his title lead.
“Maybe I have been driving too cautiously today but I am still here and I still have a chance. My new co-driver has done a great job today but it's not been a normal situation,” Kopecky said.