Mikkelsen picks up where he left off, but in WRC2
Finally getting into the car on Thursday night came as blessed relief to Andreas Mikkelsen. At last, he could get away from people asking the winner of the last round of last year’s championship what life was like in economy after flying first class for the last four years.
If ever anybody was ready for an immediate upgrade back to the front, it’s Mikkelsen.
The Norwegian was inch-perfect and toweringly quick in a car and a class he thought he’d left behind in 2012. Joining Skoda Motorsport for what’s planned to be a one-off drive in a Fabia R5, Mikkelsen gave a graphic demonstration of what the Czech machine’s capable of.
He spanked team-mates Jan Kopecky and Pontus Tidemand and left the best of the rest trailing in his snow dust to win by almost three and a half minutes from Kopecky.
Admittedly, Jan’s pace was slowed by a puncture on the opening day, allowing former Monte winner Bryan Bouffier to start the weekend thinking up new ways to bridge a 2m47s gap that Mikkelsen had built by Friday night.
Bouffier’s hopes were dashed when he suffered a puncture of his own on Saturday, allowing Kopecky back to second. Bouffier found reason to celebrate, edging Tidemand for third by seven seconds to avoid a Skoda clean sweep.
Up front, Mikkelsen was typically understated about his success. “It’s been fun,” he said. “I have to thank Skoda for giving me the car for this event and four days of testing to get used to it. Unfortunately, none of those days included any time on slicks, so when we bolted them on for the first night, we only had the road section to get used to them! It’s been good. The car was good and we have [given] Skoda a win.”
After a season of little interest in 2016, R-GT returned in Monte Carlo with four cars: Romain Dumas’ Porsche and three Abarth 124s, one of which was driven by former Monte winner and living legend Francois Delecour.
As usual, Dumas’ 911 GT3 sounded glorious as it bellowed its way through the Alps, but the conditions meant it was gloriously unsuitable and looked terrible sitting on skinny winter tyres.
Mid-way through the event, Dumas admitted things were not looking good.
“We are so slow the spectators are crying!” he told MN.
He was forced to give best to Delecour through the first full day, but when the silver-haired Frenchman’s 124 let him down on the first stage on Saturday, the road was clear for his countryman to deliver a round one win to Stuttgart.
Some consolation for Turin came with Gabriele Noberasco’s second place (out of two finishers!).
Dumas’ 26-minute victory made WRC3 look like a close-run thing, with Raphael Astier ‘only’ winning by nine minutes from Renault Clio driver Luca Panzani.
Astier admitted he’d controlled proceedings from the outset in his Peugeot 208, offering him the opportunity to drive to the conditions on the final day.
Mikkelsen crushed WRC2 field