MIKKELSEN WORKING ON WRC RETURN
Norwegian targets title-challenging return for 2018 season
Unemployed World Rally Championship driver Andreas Mikkelsen is convinced he can return to the series and fight for a first title, despite missing out on the chance to drive a 2017 Volkswagen Polo R WRC this season.
Volkswagen Motorsport confirmed last week that its all-new 2017 challenger wouldn’t be available to private teams after the FIA refused to allow a delayed homologation for the car.
Mikkelsen, who had been expected to put a deal together to drive a Polo on selected rounds this year, described the news as “another punch in the face”.
The Norwegian is now forced to rebuild his season in the most difficult circumstances. He drove a Skoda Fabia R5 to a commanding class win in Monte Carlo, but admits more of the same or possible 2016 World Rally Car outings hold limited interest.
“I need to be in a 2017 car,” he told MN. “I could find the budget to drive a 2016 car, but it would cost a lot and I would be fighting to finish eighth – it’s not really worth it. To be honest, I’m a professional driver and I don’t think I should have to pay to drive. I’ve done it before and I won’t do it again. It would show the sport in a really negative way if I did.”
Mikkelsen will conduct the pre-event recce on every rally this year to ensure his pace notes remain current, but at the moment he has no more competitive outings planned.
“The news that the Polo project would not work is still quite fresh,” he said. “We are now making a new plan. We’re talking to everybody about what we can do. I don’t think I have anything to prove to anybody, it’s not so long since Australia or Monte Carlo. I don’t know what more I could have done to get a drive this year. I was running second in the championship for virtually all of last year and I won the last rally. Nobody could have done more. Basically, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.”
Mikkelsen was present in Sweden working for Red Bull TV – an opportunity that gave him the chance to look at the 2017 cars in action.
“That’s about the only positive to come from this,” he said. “Now I have had the chance and we have the chance to look at what everybody has got and we can make the picture about where is the best place to be in 2018, when I want to come back and fight for the world championship title.”
Finding space for the 27-year-old won’t be easy with all the teams full and all seats taken by contracted drivers. M-sport is the only option for renting a 2017 car. Prior to Volkswagen’s decision to quit the WRC, Mikkelsen said he was confident of fighting for this year’s title.
“That was my plan,” he said. “Two years ago I could not fight with Seb [Ogier], but last year I was fighting for wins and podiums all the time. And when I was in the same road position as Seb, we could challenge him and I beat him fair and square in Portugal and in Australia – no other driver could do that from the same start position. Honestly, I really felt it come together when I won in Australia, I was ready to take that step up. Now I have to do that for 2018.”
Mikkelsen admitted he didn’t enjoy his time spectating in Sweden, adding: “That was torture, just torture – but at the same time it was useful and it gave me a good idea about where the cars are.”