Škoda UK Motorsport's Andreas Mikkelsen become the first driver to successfully defend his Intercontinental Rally Challenge title after finishing 2nd on the final round in Cyprus at the weekend.
The Norwegian, partnered by Ola Fløene in his Fabia S2000, won two rounds of this year's IRC, finished second five times and recorded 58 stage wins. He headed to Cyprus already mathematically the champion, but that did not stop him chasing a third victory for 2012.
He took an early lead with fastest time on the opening Pafos city centre stage on Friday night, before losing two minutes and dropping to seventh after picking up a right rear puncture on Saturday's opening stage. He then launched an amazing comeback on the mixed surface stages in the rugged Troodos Mountains, setting seven fastest stage times over the next eight stages to close to within just 49 seconds of leader Nasser Al-Attiyah after SS10.
Another puncture on SS11, however, saw Mikkelsen settle for second place and the IRC title and, in tribute to the contribution his co-driver has made during his double title success - and indeed since the start of his career – allowed Fløene to drive the final stage.
Although the co-driver set a very respectable 13th fastest time, the honour denied Mikkelsen the chance of adding a 100th stage win to his record, having posted 99 successes over his two years in the IRC.
“These have been the best two years of my life, in the IRC with Škoda UK Motorsport, and it's an amazing feeling to be champion again,” he noted, “I have to thank Škoda for giving me the chance to return to international rallying and giving me the best available car to help me develop as a driver.
“We tried hard to win the Cyprus Rally and we really went for it, but three punctures cost us a lot of time. The mixed surface format and the hot and rough conditions were a real challenge, but it's been great fun to fight with Nasser and I'm really pleased with our performance.”
Škoda has dominated this year's IRC, scoring 120 stage wins out of a possible 172 on its way to be crowned IRC manufacturers' champions for the third consecutive year. Four different Škoda drivers – Mikkelsen, Juho Hänninen, Jan Kopecký and Dimitar Iliev – won IRC events in 2012, while Skoda drivers filled the final top four positions on the drivers' standings and the Fabia Super 2000 won eight out of the 13 rounds.
“It's been another great season,” Pierfrancesco Zanchi, Škoda UK Motorsport team principal confirmed, “We started the year aiming to defend the title, which isn't an easy thing to do. We've had our ups and downs, but I have to say I think we've done a really good job. We are really happy to celebrate back-to-back drivers' titles with Andreas and to have played our part in helping Škoda win three manufacturer titles in a row.”