Mikkelsen takes the mickey out of IRC field

Andreas Mikkelsen has taken a huge step towards claiming his first victory in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) after completing Saturday’s all-action stages of RACMSA Rally of Scotland with a commanding lead in his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia S2000.

The 22-year-old from Norway was in sixth overall, 6.8s behind Peugeot UK’s Guy Wilks, following the two runs through Carron Valley on Friday night. He narrowed the gap to 3.5sec by beating Wilks on Saturday’s opening Craigvinean test before moving ahead when he again bettered his rival’s time through Drummond Hill.

When Wilks spun into a ditch at high speed on SS5, Errochty, Mikkelsen moved into a lead of almost 30sec. By claiming two further stage wins in the afternoon amid increasingly treacherous stage conditions that caused the final test to be cancelled, Mikkelsen was able to grow his advantage to 50.7sec over Peugeot France’s Bryan Bouffier, who took a stage win during a faultless performance.

Juho Hanninen, the defending IRC champion and last year’s Rally of Scotland winner, is third overnight for the factory Skoda Motorsport team following a troubled morning caused by a lack of traction and “feeling” on the slippery stages. Set-up changes at midday service triggered an upturn in form although the Finn is 51.7sec behind Mikkelsen overnight in third.

Thierry Neuville slipped to fourth on the second run through Errochty after spinning twice in his Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207. A relative gravel novice, the 23-year-old spent much of the day in second position, but was delayed by more than 20s as he struggled to select reverse gear following his second rotation in the increasingly heavy rain.

Irish rising star Craig Breen is an impressive fifth in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 with Patrik Sandell a strong sixth for Skoda Sweden. Jan Kopecky, the IRC title leader, is a distant seventh on his Rally of Scotland debut. The Czech admitted to struggling to adapt to the treacherous conditions on a rare outing on gravel.

Behind IRC Production Cup leader Jarkko Nikara, Toni Gardemeister is ninth with PG Andersson 11th for Proton Motorsports. The Swede had excelled throughout the morning with a succession of rapid stage times to the extent he was fourth overall after stage five. However, an electrical glitch delayed his departure from the Perth regroup and the addition of 02m 20sec of time penalties has dropped him out of contention for a possible podium.

Toshi Arai is 12th overall in his R4-specification Subaru Impreza with Matthias Kahle 14th at the wheel of his Skoda Auto Deutschland Fabia. The multiple German rally champion is one of several Rally of Scotland newcomers and admitted his lack of knowledge of the demanding terrain is masking his true pace.

In the battle for IRC 2WD Cup honours, Honda Civic Type R driver Martin Kangur leads from defending champion Harry Hunt and Jean-Michel Raoux, currently second in the class standings. Mark Donnelly was leading but dropped out with engine failure.

Although David Bogie remains firmly in contention for IRC Production Cup glory it’s been a frustrating day for several home-grown talents. Englishman Guy Wilks was in the fight for first place when he spun into a ditch and got stuck for more than five minutes. He holds 15th overnight. Scot Alister McRae retired his Proton Satria Neo from the top 10 when a rock holed his car’s sump and depleted the oil supply on the first run through Errochty. Alastair Fisher, from Northern Ireland, was seventh when a front-right driveshaft failure left his Fiesta in rear-wheel-drive only for two stages this morning. He has recovered to 13th place. Two punctures and a broken wheel delayed Welsh driver Jason Pritchard.

Burcu Cetinkaya, who became the first female driver to score IRC points when she finished Rally of Scotland in eighth overall last season, is making her return to this series this weekend. On her first competitive outing in a Skoda Fabia, the Turkish driver is 24th overall as she reacclimatises to the rigours of IRC competition.

TOP 10 IRC POSITIONS AFTER DAY ONE:
01) Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene
SKODA Fabia S2000 – 58m 52.8s
02) Bryan Bouffier/Xavier Panseri
Peugeot 207 S2000 + 50.7s
03) Juho Hanninen/Mikko Markkula
SKODA Fabia S2000 + 51.7s
04) Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul
Peugeot 207 S2000 + 01m 25.8s
05) Craig Breen/Gareth Roberts
M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 + 01m 28.5s
06) Patrik Sandell/Staffan Parmander
SKODA Fabia S2000 + 01m 33.9s
07) Jan Kopecky/Petr Stary
SKODA Fabia S2000 + 01m 43.4s
08) Jarkko Nikara/Petri Nikara
Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX + 02m 22.2s
09) Toni Gardemeister/Tapio Suominen
SKODA Fabia S2000 + 02m 27.3s
10) David Bogie/Kevin Rae
Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX + 02m 33.0s
– Credit: Information supplied by www.ircseries.com.