Andreas Mikkelsen has begun the defence of his Intercontinental Rally Challenge title in style by winning SATA Rallye Acores, the opening round of IRC season six, which finished this afternoon [Saturday] following three days and almost 200 kilometres of thrilling high-speed action in the mid-Atlantic.

Juho Hanninen, the 2010 IRC champion and the winner of this event last term, made it a one-two for Skoda by claiming second overall with Bryan Bouffier the top Peugeot finisher in third.

Mikkelsen's performance, which extends his run of victories in the IRC to three in a row after he won the 2011 season-closing rounds in Scotland and Cyprus - a new IRC record - earned him the prestigious Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy, awarded to the driver whose heroics behind the wheel best embody the spirit of the rallying legend.

"This is the perfect start to the season, I am so happy for the Skoda UK team, for my co-driver Ola [Floene] - and this is the perfect result for Skoda too," said Mikkelsen, who set the fastest time on 10 stages. "We had a tough fight with Juho and we had to push but it couldn't have gone better."

Hanninen started the event as one of the favourites for victory but a costly spin on Friday morning meant he had to settle for second best in his factory-run Fabia.

"We came here for the victory but it was not good enough to stop Andreas," said the Finn, the most successful driver in the history of the IRC. "Andreas made no mistake, I made a big one - he made a good rally and deserved his victory."

Bryan Bouffier had been embroiled in a close fight for the final podium spot with fellow Peugeot 207 S2000 driver Bruno Magalhaes until the Portuguese crashed out on day two. It left Frenchman Bouffier to take a comfortable third overall. "To be on the podium on the opening round is very good and thanks to Peugeot for a really good car for this race," he said.

Skoda Auto Deutschland's Sepp Wiegand, making his IRC debut, won the battle to be the top German rising star in impressive fashion after he demoted Hermann Gassner Jr to fifth on Saturday's first stage when Gassner Jr stalled the engine of his Red Bull Fabia S2000. And it got worse for Gassner Jr when he picked up a right-rear puncture after he struck an earth bank on the penultimate stage in his efforts to close up to Wiegand, whose decision to use soft compound tyres on Saturday morning's loop of stages paid dividends.

"This is a really big moment for me on my second rally on gravel and my first in the IRC," said Wiegand. "To be in the top five is unbelievable, I'm really, really happy."

Behind sixth-placed IRC Production Cup winner Richard Moura, Oleksandr Saliuk starred on his IRC debut in seventh on his first outing in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000. The Dream Team Ukraine driver set out with the sole aim of finishing so was thrilled to reach the end of the rain-affected event. Third fastest time on the second run through the Grupo Marques superspecial was a personal highlight for Saliuk.

Sergio Silva was the leading Subaru driver in eighth overall with Ruben Rodrigues ninth and Miguel Barbosa claiming the final IRC point in 10th.

Rashid Al-Ketbi and Oleksiy Tamrazov both returned to the action on Saturday after their exits on Friday and both gained valuable experience with Skydive Dubai Rally Team's Al-Ketbi particularly pleased afterwards. "It was very important for my team to be at the finish line and I have learned so much," said the Emirati. "For these reasons I am very happy."

The 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge season now continues next month with Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Ingles, running from March 15-17.

SATA Rallye Acores - Top ten IRC positions (after day three):

1. Andreas Mikkelsen /Ola Floene Skoda Fabia S2000 2h12m43.2s
2. Juho Hanninen /Mikko Markkula Skoda Fabia S2000 +25.1s
3. Bryan Bouffier /Xavier Panseri Peugeot 207 S2000 +2m04.8s
4. Sepp Wiegand /Timo Gottschalk Skoda Fabia S2000 +5m20.3s
5. Hermann Gassner Jr /Klaus Wicha Skoda Fabia S2000 +6m23.9s
6. Ricardo Moura /Sancho Eiro Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX +8m43.5s
7. Oleksandr Saliuk /Pavel Cherepin M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +10m28.1s
8. Sergio Silva /Fernando Nunes Subaru Impreza STI +16m00.1s
9. Ruben Rodrigues /Estevao Rodrigues Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX +17m15.0s
10. Miguel Barbosa /Justino Reis Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX +18m01.6s
IRC Production Cup: Ricardo Moura /Sancho Eiro (Ralliart Lancer Evolution IX)IRC 2WD Cup: Paulo Maciel /Filipe Gouveia (Citroen Saxo VTS)

IRC Drivers' standings (after round 1 of 13) - Top 10:*

1. Andreas Mikkelsen 25pts
2. Juho H?nninen 18pts
3. Bryan Bouffier 15pts
4. Sepp Wiegand 12pts
5. Hermann Gassner Jr 12pts
6. Ricardo Moura 8pts
7. Oleksandr Saliuk 6pts
8. Sergio Silva 4pts
9. Ruben Rodrigues 2pts
10. Miguel Barbosa 1pt

* denotes best eight scores count

IRC manufacturers (after round 1 of 13):

1. Skoda 43pts
2. Peugeot 15pts
3. M-Sport 12pts
4. Subaru 10pts


Loading Comments...