TOY­OTA RE­VEALS LIV­ERY Mikkelsen: Not out to fin­ish se­cond

Twelve months on from an­nounc­ing its re­turn to the World Rally Cham­pi­onship, Toy­ota re­vealed the liv­ery for its 2016 test Yaris WRC at a Tokyo press con­fer­ence last week

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­

Volk­swa­gen’s An­dreas Mikkelsen be­lieves his good start to the sea­son can spur him on to vic­tory on his ‘home’ round of the World Rally Cham­pi­onship.

The Nor­we­gian led the event into the fi­nal stage last year be­fore a mis­take cost him vic­tory and dropped him to third place. This time around Mikkelsen is more de­ter­mined than ever to take his se­cond win, hav­ing bro­ken his WRC duck in Spain last Oc­to­ber.

Rally Swe­den, as usual, will cross the bor­der into Mikkelsen’s na­tive Nor­way on Fri­day, where he is de­ter­mined to make the most of his home ad­van­tage.

Mikkelsen said: “I am not trav­el­ling to Rally Swe­den to fin­ish se­cond. It is my home rally, as part of the route is in my na­tive Nor­way. Many of my friends and my en­tire fam­ily will be there, and it has al­ways been my dream to win there. I came so damned close last year.

“I had the win in my hands – but ul­ti­mately came up just short in the fi­nal few me­tres. We have made a good start to the sea­son, and I will do ev­ery­thing in my power to win in Swe­den for the first time.”

Last year’s win­ner and his team-mate’s neme­sis Se­bastien Ogier an­tic­i­pates a big fight with Mikkelsen and Jari-matti Lat­vala.

“I am ex­pect­ing a close Rally Swe­den,” said the reign­ing world cham­pion. “I am cer­tainly look­ing for­ward to the rally. Last year it was a tough strug­gle with the Nordic driv­ers. They are the ones to beat in Swe­den.”

Acouple of weeks ago I was on the phone to a high-rank­ing mem­ber of the Ir­ish Tar­mac Rally Cham­pi­onship, and I lis­tened very care­fully. The net re­sult of our con­ver­sa­tion was clear. The R5/S2000 move is a good one for the cham­pi­onship.

You may have read my col­umn when the change was an­nounced last sum­mer, where I was un­de­cided. Af­ter all, the fans want to see the most mod­ern and fastest ma­chin­ery driven by their he­roes. It’s old ground I don’t need to cover too closely: Ber­tie Fisher, Billy Cole­man etc. They had the lat­est and quick­est cars.

I stand by my orig­i­nal thoughts. The or­gan­is­ers of the cham­pi­onship were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t. How do you in­ject com­pe­ti­tion back into a se­ries by rul­ing cars out? I think that was a fair and bal­anced opin­ion at the time.

How­ever, two things have changed since I wrote that col­umn, the first be­ing the ab­so­lute ex­plo­sion of in­ter­est in the Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship. Its cal­en­dar now fea­tures two Ir­ish Tar­mac rounds, with the two cham­pi­onships shar­ing the sim­i­lar rules (both have R5/S2000S as the top class). I don’t think any­one could have pre­dicted the sud­den rise of the BRC, which looks like it will at­tract around 15 R5 en­tries for its Mid Wales opener next month.

Here’s why it makes a dif­fer­ence, and why my opin­ion has al­tered a lit­tle: num­bers. I wasn’t con­vinced in June that we’d get a dou­ble fig­ure num­ber of R5s in the ITRC, but we’ve had that on the first round. Per­haps the ac­ces­si­bil­ity be­tween Ir­ish, Bri­tish and Euro­pean cham­pi­onships has helped that. Driv­ers can now do those two rounds and po­ten­tially com­pete in one, two or three cham­pi­onships de­pend­ing on your re­sults in each round. Bril­liant.

Back to the num­bers: yes, WR Cars are the best to watch and get the spectators out of bed, but would two? If you saw an en­try of two WRC cars, as we had at many points last year, would you be up at 0400hrs to travel to the depths of the Ir­ish coun­try­side to fol­low the rally? I doubt it.

Here’s where the R5 thing works. The cars are nearly as fast as a WR Car in the right hands, and we got 14 of them in­clud­ing S2000s in Gal­way alone. Fan­tas­tic.

The se­cond rea­son is par­ity. A S12B Subaru Im­preza and a 1.6-litre mod­ern Fi­esta are two dif­fer­ent beasts suited to dif­fer­ent con­di­tions. If you’re a young­ster, prov­ing your­self with a car which is deemed to favour a cer­tain rally re­moves your brag­ging rights.

How­ever, the R5s are on a very even keel. Yes, some R5s are bet­ter than oth­ers, but per­haps by 0.2s per mile driven by the best. No dis­re­spect in­tended here – but at a

rel­a­tively grass­roots level, that 0.2s prob­a­bly isn’t go­ing to be ac­cessed.

So gear up for a year of proper-close ral­ly­ing, if Gal­way is any­thing to go by.

FE­BRU­ARY 10 2016

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