Having led the Mecsek Rallye since the start, Andreas Mikkelsen came within two stages of winning his first Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) event – only to be denied a worthy victory when he hit an unexpected carpet of loose gravel on the penultimate stage (SS13), which eliminated all grip and forced his ŠKODA UK Motorsport Fabia S2000 off the road and into retirement.
Co-driven by Ola Fløene, Andreas had driven magnificently throughout the event, setting three fastest times in the first four stages to establish and early lead on his first visit to Hungary. The 22-year old FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy driver led a round of the IRC overnight for the first time by 8.7 seconds, and immediately increased his lead to 15.6 seconds after a sublime run over Day 2’s opening stage – on which he took 6.9 seconds off 2nd placed Jan Kopecký (ŠKODA Motorsport).
With just three stages remaining, the gap had increased to 18.8 seconds and it was time to consolidate the position and ease off slightly.
Repeats runs over the fast asphalt stages in the Mecsek Hills, located near the ancient city of Pécs, near to the Croatian border in south-west Hungary, were making the area more familiar, and Andreas was confident enough to ease off a lot through the trickiest of the remaining three stages, confident that a 10.4 second margin over the final two stages would be sufficient.
The likelihood is that whoever was running first on the road would have encountered a big problem, when a good, dry and clean surface turned into a bed of loose gravel, immediately after a crest on a sixth gear right hand corner mid-way through SS13. Andreas hit the gravel, lost all grip and slid sideways into nearby trees. He and Ola were unharmed, and they managed to drive their Fabia S2000 to a junction, where they parked and awaited recovery.
There was still great joy for ŠKODA at the finish, with Jan Kopecký/Petr Starý winning the Mecsek Rallye for ŠKODA Motorsport. They finished 0.8 seconds ahead of Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul, while Freddy Loix/Frédéric Miclotte made it two ŠKODA Fabia S2000s in the top three – allowing ŠKODA to increase its already healthy lead in the IRC manufacturers’ standings.
Andreas: “We had the perfect weekend up until stage thirteen. We had led from the start, I was driving smart, Ola was doing an amazing job and the car was faultless. Our rally came to an end on an uphill fast right hand corner over a crest, and where the corner tightened a little there was gravel all over the road. It was a repeat of a stage we’d done in the morning, and the first time through there was no gravel and even on the second run there was nothing on the road until the point we went off at. When we hit the gravel there was no grip at all and we slid off the road in sixth gear and hit a tree.
“I’d like to thank the team for doing such a great job this weekend and preparing a fantastic car. It was my first event in Hungary and to lead for so much of the rally is really positive.”
Round 9 of the IRC is the Sanremo Rally (23-24 September).
Mecsek Rally results (after SS14)
1. Jan Kopecký/Petr Starý (ŠKODA Fabia S2000)….2hrs 00mins 06.7secs
2. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Peugeot 207 S2000)….+0.8secs
3. Freddy Loix/Frédéric Miclotte (ŠKODA Fabia S2000)….+1min 00.0secs
4. Bryan Bouffier/Xavier Panseri (Peugeot 207 S2000)….+1min 35.6secs
5. Hermann Gassner Jnr/Timo Gottschalk (ŠKODA Fabia S2000)….+2mins 35.6secs
6. György Aschenbrenner/Pikó Zsuzsa (Ralliart Lancer Evo IX)….+2mins 38.2secs