ŠKODA UK Motorsport’s Andreas Mikkelsen believes that a podium finish on the forthcoming Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés (15-17 March) would be another significant step in the defence of his Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) drivers’ title, after his recent victory on the opening round in the Azores.The Canary Island-based event is the first asphalt rally of the season, and Andreas and co-driver Ola Fløene have only contested it once before – finishing a trouble-free 6th last year and scoring valuable points towards their IRC titles.Not only has Andreas got experience of the fast and snaking mountain roads above the host city of Las Palmas, he is now just as at home competing on asphalt as he is on gravel rallies, thanks to fine tuning a smoother driving technique. Some of Andreas’ development work has included endurance races at the Nürburgring, and it’s been his ability to adapt these circuit skills to the special stage that has helped him lead three asphalt rallies last year – the Mecsek Rallye (Hungary), Barum Czech Rally Zlín and Rallye Sanremo (Italy).Round 2 of this year’s IRC has received a strong entry, with 11 Super 2000 cars in the starting line up – including theŠKODA Motorsport Fabia S2000 of Jan Kopecký. The event also sees the leading competitors from the FIA European Rally Cup (South-West) and Spanish, Canarian and Las Palmas Provincial Rally Championships.Andreas: “I enjoyed the rally in Gran Canarias last year. We went there to learn the stages and get a solid result, and that’s what we achieved. I’m a much stronger driver on Tarmac now, so we want to be faster for sure, but we also want to finish and score points.“Being the first driver to win three consecutive IRC rallies is a nice feeling, but it will be hard to keep it going on Gran Canarias because it’s a tough event. It’s the first rally of the year on Tarmac and there are a lot of very fast Tarmac drivers, so if I get a podium I will be very happy with that.”The 36th Rally Islas Canarias Trofeo El Corte Inglés begins with a ceremonial start at the Parque Santa Catalina, in the heart of Las Palmas, at 20.30 on Thursday 15 March. Leg 1 starts at 07.00 on Friday 16 March and contains nine special stages, including two runs over Artenara (SS2/5) which, at 15.32 miles (24.67kms), is the longest stage of the event, plus a quick blast around the Gran Karting Club track. After 86.61 miles (139.4kms) is completed, the tough opening day comes to an end more than 12 hours after it began.Leg 2 on Saturday 17 March starts at 09.00 and contains a 31.54 mile (50.76kms) loop of three stages, which is repeated in the afternoon. After all 15 stages and an overall competitive distance of 149.7 miles (240.92kms) are completed, the rally finishes back in Las Palmas at 18.00.