This year’s Rallye Monte Carlo will see a familiar face back behind the wheel of a ŠKODA car. Norwegian driver Andreas Mikkelsen is the man making an emotional homecoming after spending two successful years as a member of the ŠKODA rally family in 2011 and 2012.
After his departure, Mikkelsen has enjoyed four years at the very top of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) as a driver for the Volkswagen works team. But their withdrawal from the WRC has allowed ŠKODA Motorsport to pull off something of a coup, and given Mikkelsen the chance to follow his heart and relive a few former glories as a ŠKODA driver once again.
Andreas Mikkelsen first sat behind the wheel of a ŠKODA in a competitive event back in 2009. A single run-out in the FABIA WRC at the Rally Poland was followed up by two drives in a FABIA SUPER 2000; a third-place finish at the Rally Bohemia in the Czech Republic and a victory at the Rally Costa Brava in Spain.
The 2010 season also saw Mikkelsen, and then co-driver Ola Fløene, take on three events in the FABIA S2000. The highlight of these rallies was their SWRC victory at the Rally of Great Britain.
Those results were enough for Mikkelsen to be signed up by the ŠKODA UK team to drive a FABIA S2000 for the 2011 season, where his focus would be the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC).
The season got off to a slow start by their high standards. After failing to finish in the opening round at the Rallye Monte Carlo, they could only finish in sixth place at the next two rounds, the Rally Islas Canarias – El Corte Inglés and the Tour de Corse.
Their season was given a boost by victory in the colours of ŠKODA Rally Team Italia at the Rally San Marino, which was the round of the Italian gravel rally championship, and this was followed up by a second place finish at the Rallye Açores in Portugal to put their IRC challenge back on track.
However, fifth place at the Barum Czech Rally Zlín and a retirement at the Mecsek Rallye in Hungary left Mikkelsen with it all to do in the final three rallies of the season if he was to claim the title.
But like all great drivers, he managed to find extra reserves when it mattered most. A runner-up spot at the Rallye Sanremo in Italy, where he missed out on victory by just 1.5 seconds, was followed by a strong win at the Rally of Scotland in the penultimate round.
And in the final round of the season, the Cyprus Rally, Mikkelsen put in a dominant display leading from start to finish to claim victory by a margin of 1 minute 40 seconds, and the IRC title by just 1.5 points from fellow FABIA S2000 driver Jan Kopecký.
The 2012 season proved to be more comfortable defence of that hard earned IRC title. Mikkelsen carried over his impressive end-of-season form and led from start to finish to claim victory in the opening round of the IRC, the Rallye Açores.
Three runner-up spots in the next four rounds, at the Rally Islas Canarias – El Corte Inglés, Circuit of Ireland and the Rally Targa Florio, along with a fifth place at the Tour de Corse established Mikkelsen with a clear lead in the championship which he would never relinquish.
Failure to finish at the Ypres Rally was mitigated by second at the Rally di San Marino and another win, this time at the Sibiului Rally Romania, where Mikkelsen won all but two stages to win by an impressive margin of 5 minutes 33 seconds.
By this time, Mikkelsen was already working with the Volkswagen Motorsport team too and drove the FABIA S2000 in their colours at the Rally Argentina and the Acropolis Rally in Greece. But his big breakthrough on the WRC stage was at the Rallye Deutschland where he finished 2nd in class and 7th overall.
Two more second place class finishes, at the Rallye de France – Alsace and Rally Italia Sardegna, ensured that Volkswagen would swoop to sign up Mikkelsen for the 2013 season.
But not before he returned to finish second at the Cyprus Rally, the final round of the IRC, and ensure he would be the first – and only – driver to win back-to-back IRC titles.
Andreas Mikkelsen left ŠKODA with best wishes and everyone is looking forward to welcoming him back into the fold once again for the Rallye Monte Carlo. Welcome home Andreas!