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IRC: Mikkelsen claims maiden win in Scotland
10 October 2011
Andreas Mikkelsen's long wait for his first victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge is over after he won RACMSA Rally of Scotland to set up a thrilling six-way battle for the IRC title on the final event of the season in Cyprus next month.
Mikkelsen's success, combined with Juho Hanninen's second place, handed Skoda its second IRC manufacturers' title in as many years, and also confirmed the 22-year old Norwegian as the youngest IRC event winner, as well as the sixth different victor in this year's series, such has been the extremely open and competitive nature of the series in 2011.
Bryan Bouffier was the leading Peugeot finisher in third overall to maintain his title push, with Irishman Craig Breen a hugely impressive fourth overall in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta. Peugeot France driver Bouffier overcame brake problems on Sunday morning, while Breen's ultimate pace on the final day was masked by a cracked exhaust manifold.
Jan Kopecky maintained his lead at the top of the IRC standings by finishing fifth, but will face opposition from Skoda Motorsport team-mate Hanninen, Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg's Thierry Neuville, Mikkelsen, Bouffier and Freddy Loix in his bid to land his first drivers' crown after finishing runner-up for the last two years. The IRC concludes in Cyprus over 3-5 November.
Mikkelsen, in a Skoda UK-backed Fabia Super 2000, moved into the Rally of Scotland lead on Saturday's second stage and was in control from the moment Peugeot UK's Guy Wilks spun into a ditch and got stuck on stage five, Errochty.
Co-driven by fellow Norwegian Ola Floene, Mikkelsen began the final day with a lead of 50.7secs. Although the first two slippery stages through the stunning Stirlingshire countryside this morning were trouble-free for Mikkelsen, a right-rear puncture six kilometres from the end of Sunday's third test allowed Hanninen to trim his advantage to less than 30 seconds.
Mikkelsen hit back with the fastest time through stage twelve before another puncture, this time his front-right tyre three kilometres from the finish of the next run, caused further anguish. But after completing the two stages around Scone Palace on the outskirts of Perth unscathed, Mikkelsen was able to celebrate a popular and hugely deserved victory having come close on several occasions this season.
"What a fantastic weekend," MIkkelsen enthused, "We were so close to winning in Hungary and even closer in Sanremo, but we could not have found a better place to score our first IRC win on Skoda UK's home event. The feeling is just amazing and this result gives us something to really build on for our next rally in Cyprus.
“I finished second here last year and arrived with great memories but this, of course, is even better. Even with the mud, we have experienced I have enjoyed this event so much. The stages are so fast and so flowing – this time there was not quite so much grip as in 2010 but it was very enjoyable sliding the car about.
“It's been a season of ups and downs for me, but the results have been getting very strong lately and I've come close to the win a few times. Now it's happened. There were still some dramas. I had two punctures today – the second one made the car very hard to drive but I was lucky as it was right at the end of the stage. To cross that finish line at Scone Palace was the best feeling I've had in a rally car so far.”
For Hanninen, second place represented a remarkable reversal of fortune after set-up issues held him back on Saturday morning. The Finn, the winner in Scotland in 2010, was fastest on three of Sunday's five forest-based tests. Behind fifth-placed Kopecky, Neuville's efforts to recover from a costly spin on stage ten netted sixth overall after he overtook Toni Gardemeister on the penultimate stage. Seventh for Gardemeister means he has scored points on all nine IRC events he has contested this year in his TGS Worldwide Fabia.
"It's an exciting end to the IRC and second place gets good points for Skoda, which was the main target this weekend," Hanninen commented, "It's not been an easy rally but I am very happy to finish second."
M-Sport Ford Fiesta driver Alastair Fisher was the leading British finisher in eighth overall after the Northern Irishman successfully fought back from a broken driveshaft on Saturday morning. Wilks should have taken ninth following his comeback drive only to tear a wheel off his car on a gatepost on the final stage to compound a frustrating season.
Matthias Kahle bagged the final point for Skoda Auto Deutschland, the multiple German champion's first in the IRC. It was also the 50th event he and co-driver Peter Gobel have contested together with Skoda.
Skoda Sweden's Patrik Sandell moved into fourth overall after going fastest on stage ten. However, in doing so he damaged his car's suspension running wide near the finish to the point he was unable to go any further. Leading female driver Burcu Cetinkaya retired her Skoda on the road section heading to stage ten with steering problems.
An electrical glitch forced PG Andersson's retirement on stage eleven after the Swede had run as high as fourth in the overall classification. Proton Motorsports' team-mate Alister McRae was unable to restart on Sunday after he stopped on Saturday with a holed sump on his Satria Neo S2000.
In the IRC Production Cup, Toshi Arai made the most of Jarkko Nikara's retirement on stage 13 to win for the first time and take an impressive tenth overall in his R4-specification Subaru Impreza. Nikara was leading when he spun his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer into a ditch and got stuck.
David Bogie started day two in second in class but tore the left-rear wheel off his Lancer running wide on a corner nearing the end of stage eleven. Jason Pritchard finished second in his Impreza, despite having to drive through Sunday's stages with a broken damper, which a lack of spare parts meant he was unable to replace. Arai's team-mate Fumio Nutahara made it a Subaru podium lockout with Marco Cavigioli a strong fourth.
Martin Kangur put a frustrating season behind him to win the IRC 2WD Cup in his Honda Civic Type R. The young Estonian moved in front when Mark Donnelly retired his Clio R3 with a broken engine on Saturday afternoon. Harry Hunt should have finished second but slid into a ditch on stage eleven and was unable to regain the road. Jean-Michel Raoux missed a golden opportunity to move ahead of Stefano Albertini, who was not competing in Scotland, to the top of the IRC 2WD Cup standings only to go off the road on stage 13. Rising Scottish star John MacCrone finished second in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2 with Janos Puskadi third for Honda, which crowns the Japanese make as the unofficial IRC 2WD Cup manufacturers' champion.
RACMSA Rally of Scotland - Top ten IRC positions (after day two):
1. Andreas Mikkelsen /Ola Floene Skoda Fabia S2000 1h55m17.2s
2. Juho Hanninen /Mikko Markkula Skoda Fabia S2000 +26.4s
3. Bryan Bouffier /Xavier Panseri Peugeot 207 S2000 +1m35.3s
4. Craig Breen /Gareth Roberts M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +2m05.1s
5. Jan Kopecky /Petr Stary Skoda Fabia S2000 +2m11.7s
6. Thierry Neuville /Nicolas Gilsoul Peugeot 207 S2000 +3m10.4s
7. Toni Gardemeister /Tapio Suominen Skoda Fabia S2000 +3m11.5s
8. Alastair Fisher /Daniel Barritt M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +4m59.9s
9. Toshi Arai /Dale Moscatt Subaru Impreza R4 STI +8m17.6s
10. Matthias Kahle /Peter Gobel Skoda Fabia S2000 +9m36.1s
IRC Production Cup: Toshi Arai /Dale Moscatt (Subaru Impreza R4 STI)
IRC 2WD Cup: Martin Kangur /Silver Kutt (Honda Civic Type R)
IRC Drivers' standings (after round 10 of 11) – Top 10:*
1. Jan Kopecky 131pts
2. Juho Hanninen 125pts
3. Thierry Neuville 115pts
4. Andreas Mikkelsen 111.5pts
5. Bryan Bouffier 110.5pts
6. Freddy Loix 103pts
7. Guy Wilks 47pts
8. Toni Gardemeister 44pts
9. Bruno Magalhaes 26pts
10. Craig Breen 24pts etc
* denotes best seven scores count
Manufacturers' standings (after round 10 of 11):
1. Skoda 316.5pts
2. Peugeot 241.5pts
3. M-Sport 107pts
4. Subaru 79pts
5. Ralliart 73pts
6. Proton 41pts
7. Honda 34pts
8. Abarth 15pts