IRC: Mikkelsen secures title with Cyprus win
5 November 2011
Andreas Mikkelsen has become the youngest driver to win the Intercontinental Rally Challenge after claiming victory on the season-closing Cyprus Rally.
Amid emotional scenes captured live on Eurosport, Mikkeslen secured the title by one and a half points from Jan Kopecky, sealing glory by going fastest on the final stage alongside co-driver Ola Floene.
Mikkelsen, driving a Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia Super 2000 led for all but one stage of the mixed-surface event based in Pafos in the south-west of the Mediterranean island. One of five drivers in contention for the coveted IRC title at the start of the rally, Mikkelsen had to win the event in order to become champion.
Apart from a spin on Friday and a puncture on Saturday morning, little troubled the Norwegian who becomes the fifth different IRC champion in as many years (following on from Juho Hanninen, Kris Meeke, Nicolas Vouilloz and Enrique Garcia Ojeda).
Mikkelsen, who switched to rallying as a 17-year-old when injury curtailed his promising skiing career, was almost forced to stop competing when he ran out of funding prior to the 2009 season.
He hit back by securing a drive with Skoda's UK importer for the 2011 season after impressing in the IRC in 2010 in a privateer M-Sport Ford Fiesta. Despite a troubled start on Rallye Monte-Carlo, when he crashed on the opening stage, he slowly improved his form and came close to winning several rallies before taking his maiden win on the penultimate round in Scotland last month to set up a title challenge in Cyprus. As well as winning two rounds outright, Mikkelsen scored more stage wins than any other driver with a total of 38 fastest times during the year.
“To become IRC champion is such a fantastic feeling, the likes of which I have never felt before,” Mikkelsen said. “It's been a tough season, which didn't start so well in Monte Carlo but which has just kept getting better and better. We've had a fantastic second half of the year and wow, to finish with a win in Cyprus and the IRC drivers' title, I can hardly believe it has happened. It's like a dream.
“I'd really like to thank everyone at Skoda UK Motorsport and Skoda Motorsport for and giving me this opportunity this year. It's a special moment for everyone. So much effort has been put in over the last five years of my rallying career, not just by me, but the people around me. To give this title back to everyone who has been involved is incredible.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah, last season's Cyprus Rally winner, had started the final day with an outside chance of victory and went fastest of all on Saturday's third stage. However, an engine failure meant he was unable to continue after midday service, handing second place to factory Skoda driver Kopecky, who has been runner-up in the IRC standings for the last three seasons.
“There was damage in the engine, which is a big disappointment,” said Al-Attiyah. “It was fantastic before and I was really so happy with my performance against all these great IRC drivers and live on Eurosport. But what can we do?”
“I have to say this rally was quite tricky for us coming from a country with no gravel stages,” Kopecky added. “We have done our best this year and not made any mistakes but finally we are second. I am disappointed but that's it although I have to say thanks to Skoda for a great job all season.”
Patrik Sandell took third with his best finish of the season for Skoda Sweden claiming a stage victory to boot: “It's a really good way to finish what has been a tough and sometimes frustrating year. When things work well we can set top times as we have proved this weekend,” Sandell stated.
Estonian teenager Karl Kruuda, in a privateer Fabia, impressed in fourth, snatching the position from Freddy Loix when the Belgian's BFO-backed Fabia developed a mechanical fault on the penultimate stage.
Matthias Kahle completed an all-Fabia top six in his Skoda Auto Deutschland Fabia after a solid display on his first visit to Cyprus. And it got better for the German importer when Kahle's teammate Mark Wallenwein battled back from his double puncture on Friday to finish eighth, one place behind IRC Production Cup winner Toshi Arai.
With IRC 2WD Cup champion Jean-Michel Raoux not eligible for overall IRC drivers' points in ninth, ex-circuit racer Doros Loucaides clinched the four points on offer for the place in his Petrolina-backed Peugeot 207 S2000, which he was using in competition for the first time on the back of a 50-kilometre pre-event test.
Charalambos Timotheau claimed the final points in his Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX after mechanical problems halted fellow Cypriot Nicos Thomas on the final afternoon.
Outgoing IRC champion Juho Hanninen restarted on day two under SupeRally regulations following his crash on Friday's opening run. Despite winning a stage he had to settle for 16th overall, one place ahead of leading female driver Burcu Cetinkaya.
“Although we haven't been appearing regularly in the IRC this season, we had a good chance to win the title in the end. Considering the double portion of points available here in Cyprus, my stupid mistake really had a major impact on the final standings. Anyway, I am pleased that we have helped the team win the Manufacturers Cup,” Hanninen said.
Mikkelsen's performance meanwhile earned him the Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy, awarded on each round of the IRC to the driver whose performance best embodies the spirit of the rallying legend who won the Cyprus Rally 10 years ago in 2001.
Cyprus Rally - Top ten IRC positions (after day two):
1. Andreas Mikkelsen /Ola Floene Skoda Fabia S2000 2h25m18.5s
2. Jan Kopecky /Pavel Dresler Skoda Fabia S2000 +1m40.5s
3. Patrik Sandell /Staffan ParmanderSkoda Fabia S2000 +2m54.8s
4. Karl Kruuda /Martin Jarveoja Skoda Fabia S2000 +4m33.0s
5. Freddy Loix /Frederic Miclotte Skoda Fabia S2000 +5m25.4s
6. Matthias Kahle /Peter Gobel Skoda Fabia S2000 +7m48.9s
7. Toshi Arai /Dale Moscatt Subaru Impreza R4 STI +8m16.2s
8. Mark Wallenwein /Stefan Kopczyk Skoda Fabia S2000 +13m06.7s
9. Doros Loucaides /Savvas Laos Peugeot 207 S2000 +15m07.8s
10. Charalambos Timotheou /Pambos Laos Ralliart Lancer Evo IX +15m25.7s
IRC Production Cup: Toshi Arai /Dale Moscatt (Subaru Impreza R4)
IRC 2WD Cup: Jean-Michel Raoux /Laurent Magat (Renault Clio R3)
IRC Drivers' standings (after round 11 of 11) – Top 10:*
1. Andreas Mikkelsen 153.5pts
2. Jan Kopecky 152pts
3. Juho Hanninen 125pts
4. Freddy Loix 123pts
5. Thierry Neuville 115pts
6. Bryan Bouffier 110.5pts
7. Guy Wilks 47pts
8. Patrik Sandell 44pts
9. Toni Gardemeister 43pts
10. Karl Kruuda 39pts
* denotes best seven scores count
Manufacturers' standings (after round 11 of 11):
1. Skoda 362.5pts
2. Peugeot 241.5pts
3. Subaru 117pts
4. M-Sport 107pts
5. Ralliart 104pts
6. Honda 46pts
7. Proton 41pts
8. Abarth 15pts