› Driving a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 for the first time in competition, Sébastien Loeb from France, together with navigator Laurène Godey, wins Tour European Rally event on São Miguel
› Toksport WRT team mates Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen from Norway finish second on the demanding gravel stages of the Portuguese island
› Crews relying on the new Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 win all twelve stages
Ponta Delgada (PRT), 1 April 2023 – He may be not have been too familiar with a Rally2 machine so far. But that didn’t stop nine-time FIA World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb from winning his first ever event at the wheel of a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. The Frenchman and co-driver Laurène Godey beat Toksport WRT team mates Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen from Norway to victory at Azores Rallye, third round of the Tour European Rally (TER).
The Azores Rallye, until last year a round of the FIA European Rally Championship, was run on São Miguel out of the islands’ capital Ponta Delgada and featured twelve stages totalling 109.32 competitive kilometres. Gravel roads often no wider than a rally car in combination with a rain-soaked, slippery surface left no margin for error. São Miguel is also known for a stunning scenery. That counted especially for the stage “Sete Cidades”, which in parts wound along the rim of a volcanic crater lake.
The rally attracted a bumper entry headed by nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb. The Frenchmen carefully chose a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 run by team Toksport WRT for his first encounter with the tradition-rich event on the island far out in the North Atlantic Ocean. Strongest opposition came from team mate Andreas Mikkelsen from Norway, FIA European Rally Champion of 2021.
Loeb and co-driver Laurène Godey were fastest on four of the opening legs five stages, building a lead of 15.1 seconds over the Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen crew until Friday evening. “We had a great day, the feeling with the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 is good and the fight with Andreas is nice,” Loeb reported. Mikkelsen was not so happy: “We did some small mistakes, so we had only an ok day. But I must admit. Séb is really impressive. I hope, we can get some time tomorrow.” Ole Christian Veiby and co-driver Stig Rune Skjærmoen from Norway, sharing another Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, finished leg 1 in third overall a further 20 seconds down on Mikkelsen/Eriksen.
Loeb/Godey had won the qualifying stage and during leg 1 started behind Mikkelsen/Eriksen. As overnight leaders, the French crew then had to open the road during the second leg. Mikkelsen immediately took advantage of the cleaner lines and won all four stages of Saturday morning. When the cars reached the midday service, Loeb’s lead was down to 11.6 seconds. “Driving is quite different today, we have to clean the road a lot,” he admitted.
After ten stages, only 8.4 seconds separated the two Škoda crews. But one stage later, the duel was over. Mikkelsen/Eriksen lost nearly ten seconds to their French opponents, leaving Loeb/Godey with a comfortable margin for the rally ending Power Stage. And the nine-time world champion didn’t let slip this victory out of his hands. In the end, Loeb/Godey beat Mikkelsen/Eriksen by 19.2 seconds. Third place went to Nil Solans and co-driver Marc Martí from Spain, who drove the previous generation Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo. In total, the eight top positions of the overall classification went to crews relying on a Škoda Fabia.
Azores Rallye (PRT), 31 March/1 April 2023, Result
|1||Sébastien Loeb/Laurène Godey (FRA/FRA), Škoda Fabia RS Rally2||1:17:57.7 hours|
|2||Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (NOR/NOR), Škoda Fabia RS Rally2||+19.2 seconds|
|3||Nil Solans/Marc Martí (ESP/ESP), Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo||+1:17.8 minutes|
|4||Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjærmoen (NOR/NOR), Škoda Fabia RS Rally2||+1:32.9 minutes|
|5||Ricardo Moura/António Costa (PRT/PRT), Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo||+1:40.1 minutes|
|6||Erik Cais/Petr Těšínský (CZE/CZE), Škoda Fabia RS Rally2||+1:58.4 minutes|
Number of the rally: 12
The team Toksport WRT internal duel between Sébastien Loeb/Laurène Godey and Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen for stage wins ended in favour of the Norwegians. They won six stages on the way to second overall, the winning crew from France posted the fastest time on five. One stage went to Czech crew Erik Cais/Petr Těšínský, meaning that all twelve stages were won by the new Škoda Fabia RS Rally2.