Mikkelsen wins in Cyprus to claim IRC title

Andreas Mikkelsen has become the youngest driver to win the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) 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 said: “To become IRC champion is such a fantastic feeling, the likes of which I have never felt before. 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.”

Japan’s Toshi Arai won the inaugural IRC Production Cup in his R4-specification Subaru Impreza STI with Jean-Michel Raoux, from France, clinching the IRC 2WD Cup by a single point ahead of Italian Stefano Albertini.

Mikkelsen, driving a Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia S2000 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. 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.

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 the final day’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.

Patrik Sandell took third with his best finish of the season for Skoda Sweden claiming a stage victory to boot. 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 team-mate 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 50km 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 a crash on Day One’s opening run. Despite winning a stage he had to settle for 16th overall, one place ahead of leading female driver Burcu Cetinkaya.

Mikkelsen’s performance 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.

Mikkelsen’s capture of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge title means he becomes the IRC’s fifth different champion in as many years and joins the illustrious list of winners:
2011: A. Mikkelsen (Skoda Fabia S2000)
2010: J. Hanninen (Skoda Fabia S2000)
2009: K. Meeke (Peugeot 207 S2000)
2008: N. Vouilloz (Peugeot 207 S2000)
2007: E. G. Ojeda (Peugeot 207 S2000)

Overall Classification:
01) A. Mikkelsen/O. Floene
Skoda Fabia S2000 – 02h 25m 18.5s
02) J. Kopecky/P. Dresler
Skoda Fabia S2000 + 01m 40.5s
03) P. Sandell/S. Parmander
Skoda Fabia S2000 + 02m 54.8s
04) K. Kruuda/M. Jarveoja
Skoda Fabia S2000 + 04m 33.0s
05) F. Loix/F. Miclotte
Skoda Fabia S2000 + 05m 25.4s
06) M. Kahle/P. Gobel
Skoda Fabia S2000 + 07m 48.9s
07) T. Arai/D. Moscatt
Subaru Impreza R4 STI + 08m 16.2s
08) M. Wallenwein/S. Kopczyk
Skoda Fabia S2000 + 13m 06.7s
09) D. Loucaides/S. Laos
Peugeot 207 S2000 + 15m 07.8s
10) C. Timotheou/P. Laos
Ralliart Lancer Evo IX + 15m 25.7s

IRC Production Cup:
T. Arai/D. Moscatt (Subaru Impreza R4 STI)

IRC 2WD Cup:
J.-M. Raoux/L. Magat (Renault Clio R3)

Drivers’ Standings:
01) A. Mikkelsen – 153.5pts
02) J. Kopecky – 152pts
03) J. Hanninen – 125pts
04) F. Loix – 123pts
05) T. Neuville – 115pts
06) B. Bouffier – 110.5pts
07) G. Wilks – 47pts
08) P. Sandell – 44pts
09) T. Gardemeister – 43pts
10) K. Kruuda – 39pts

Manufacturers’ Standings:
01) Skoda – 362.5pts
02) Peugeot – 241.5pts
03) Subaru – 117pts
04) M-Sport – 107pts
05) Ralliart – 104pts
06) Honda – 46pts
07) Proton – 41pts
08) Abarth – 15pts

IRC Production Cup Drivers’ Standings:
01) T. Arai – 111.5pts
02) F. Gonon – 75pts
03) M. Cavigioli – 37pts

IRC 2WD Cup Drivers’ Standings:
01) J.-M. Raoux – 120pts
02) S. Albertini – 119pts
03) J. Puskadi – 71.5pts