Andreas Mikkelsen and co-driver Ola Fløene have claimed Škoda's 25th victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge with a dominant performance on the Sibiu Rally, which finished in Romania's picturesque Transylvania region this evening.
Mikkelsen, driving a Škoda UK Motorsport Fabia Super 2000, led from Friday's opening stage and drove without fault to claim his second win of the season, a result that puts him 49 points clear in his bid to become the first driver to secure back-to-back IRC titles.
Sepp Wiegand was on course for his maiden IRC podium when broken right-rear suspension forced his retirement on stage ten. The Škoda Auto Deutschland driver's misfortune promoted Patrik Flodin to second place after the Petter Solberg
Engineering driver had fought back from 45th position following early delays. His heroics earned him the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy.
François Delecour completed the podium after the 49-year-old French legend overcame a spate of damper failures in his Munaretto Sport Peugeot 207 Super 2000. Delecour was also able to celebrate finishing as the leading Romanian championship runner. Vitaliy Puskhar claimed his first IRC Production Cup event win, while Robert Consani bagged his maiden success in the IRC 2WD Cup after former champion Harry Hunt hit trouble in the closing stages while leading.
Mikkelsen began day two with a comfortable 2min 44.1secs margin having won all seven stages on Friday and by profiting when several of his key rivals suffered significant time loss. Although Wiegand topped Saturday's opener, Mikkelsen wasn't flustered, citing his cautious approach – and his decision to carry two spare tyres compared to one on Friday – for his small drop off in pace.
The Norwegian was less circumspect on the mixed-surface Șanta Max run that followed to go fastest before a front-right puncture five kilometres from the finish of stage ten helped Flodin to a first stage best. But two further stage wins in the afternoon, including the event-closing superspecial on the outskirts of Sibui, ensured a comfortable winning margin of more than five and a half minutes, an IRC record.
“We won with a good margin, but it was a very tough event,” said Mikkelsen, “The roads were very rough and for us it was a case of taking no risks and driving to avoid all the big rocks, especially after we'd opened up a big gap by the end of day one. This victory is a fantastic feeling for the whole Škoda UK Motorsport team, and if it wasn't for their great work I wouldn't be here. We've been so close in the last rounds with a lot of second places, so it's great to be back on the top step of the podium.”
Flodin completed day one in sixth place and frustrated after a costly puncture on stage two – caused by a broken wheel rim – and the significant delay encountered in the dust clouds that proved such a menace on stages four and seven. But a brace of top-two stage times on Saturday morning rejuvenated the Swede who moved into third when Delecour had to drive through stage nine with a broken front-right shock absorber. Flodin suffered problems of his own on day two, with a broken driveshaft and powersteering glitch affecting his pace through stage eleven. However, with Delecour suffering more broken shock absorber woes, Flodin's second place was never truly threatened.
Wiegand was almost 2m40s clear in second place when he picked up a puncture on stage ten. Rather than stopping to change the damaged wheel the 21-year-old rising star elected to carry only for his car's right-rear shock absorber to break and force his retirement when a connection failed.