Andreas Mikkelsen marked a brief return to Skoda with a crowd-pleasing second place finish on last weekend's Lapland Arctic Rally in Finland.
Driving the same Fabia S2000 that took him to victory on the 2011 Cyprus Rally, Mikkelsen entered the event as part of preparations for his 2013 WRC programme with Volkswagen Motorsport.
With the thermometer little more than -24c for most of the two-day Rovaniemi-based event, the Norwegian and co-driver Mikko Markkula faced a tough battle against a host of local drivers who started the winter classic with considerably more experience of the stages.
With the event regulations favouring Group N cars, many of which enjoyed a 100bhp advantage over Mikkelsen's PrintSport-run S2000-specification Fabia, the double-IRC champion had to drive at his very best to stay ahead of the pack.
Fastest times on four of the opening day's five stages gave him a slim lead at the end of the first leg. However, his advantage was short-lived when his Fabia S2000 picked up a puncture on the opening stage of the second leg, and the resulting loss of four minutes taken up in changing the tyre dropped the Norwegian down to eighth.
With nothing to lose, Mikkelsen threw everything into the four remaining stages, clawing back time and giving the crowds plenty to cheer. At final service, leader Juha Salo was forced to change a gearbox, picking up time penalties that set up a thrilling final two stages. Despite pushing to the maximum on the fast, snow-covered stages, however, it proved a challenge too far for the young Norwegian, who was unable to overturn the time deficit. After ten action-packed stages, Salo took victory by just 1min 37secs.
“This has been a great rally and being back in the Skoda feels like coming home,” Mikkelsen grinned, “We had to fight hard the last two days - some of the stages are crazy fast - but we have had great fun!”
The Norwegian continues his 2013 WRC preparations with another Fabia S2000 outing on the Finnskog Rally in Norway this weekend (2 February), ahead of his debut in the VW Polo R WRC in Portugal later in the year.