Mikkelsen claims IRC crown
Andreas Mikkelsen became the youngest driver to win the Intercontinental Rally Challenge title after claiming a drama-filled Cyprus Rally in his SKODA UK Motorsport Fabia Super 2000.
The 22-year-old 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 event, Mikkelsen had to win the rally in order to become champion in his Skoda Fabia Super 2000.
He ended up clinching the crown by one and a half points over Jan Kopecky, who has now been runner-up for three seasons in a row.
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.
He put the title beyond doubt by winning the final stage live on Eurosport. At the finish, an emotional Mikkelsen said: “I never believed this would happen, it’s a big dream come true. This is the best day of my life.”
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 backing prior to the 2009 season.
He hit back by securing a drive with Skoda’s UK importer for this season after impressing in a privateer Ford Fiesta in 2010. 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 to set up a title challenge in Cyprus.
Nasser Al-Attiyah, last year’s Cyprus winner, had started the final day with an outside chance of victory and went fastest of all on Saturday’s third stage. However, an engine failure forced his retirement at midday service, handing second place to Kopecky.
Patrik Sandell took third with teenager Karl Kruuda beating Freddy Loix to fourth overall when the latter’s Fabia developed a misfire with two stages remaining.
Toshi Arai secured the IRC Production Cup with Jean-Michel Raoux taking the IRC 2WD Cup crown.