Nor­we­gian tar­gets ti­tle-chal­leng­ing re­turn for 2018 sea­son

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans

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.”

Rally Aus­tralia win laid foun­da­tions Mikkelsen says more R5 runs are point­less An­dreas Mikkelsen took the fight to Ogier in Aus­tralia, and won the event

Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

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