The premiere event of the Central European Rally took teams, crews and fans to three countries: the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. The rally was new for all the crews and the unpredictable autumn weather also had a part to play. However, there was a lot at stake! Not only was this rally about the prestigious victory on home ground, but also about winning the WRC2 World Championship title. The result, however, exceeded our expectations - the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 cars eventually took the complete podium after a thrilling duel and Andreas Mikkelsen celebrated his second World Championship title.
Already during the preparations for the Central European Rally, many suspected that the weather might have a significant impact on the overall development of the event. And so it did. While the two shorter stages on Thursday (the first of which was held directly in Prague at the Chuchle venue) took place in favourable conditions, on Friday the situation was totally different. Completely wet stages with mud tracked by the WRC cars made the surface of the stages extremely unpredictable. And such conditions took their toll even among the best.
All three candidates for the WRC2 world title had problems. Yohan Rossel, the only representative in the fight who did not start with a Škoda car, withdrew after an off-track excursion in the third stage and a hand injury prevented him from continuing the rally the next day. Andreas Mikkelsen, of the Toksport WRT team, made a minor mistake on stage four when he went off the track. Thanks to the help of the fans and a temporary repair of the car, he and his co-driver Torstein Eriksen were able to continue the competition. However, he was more than ten minutes down. Gus Greensmith, who also had a shot at the title before the Central European Rally, wanted to take advantage of his Toksport WRT teammate's hesitation; to do so, however, he needed to finish at least in third place in this event. However, after a puncture on Friday's first stage, Greensmith had already lost around a minute and was eighth in the WRC2 category after Friday, while Mikkelsen ended the day in 19th place.
Saturday was already calmer for the aforementioned continuing favourites. Greensmith climbed from eighth to fifth place and Mikkelsen from nineteenth to sixteenth. But the slower progress through the standings was a tactical approach in Mikkelsen's case. It was clear that he couldn't get any more podium finishes, so he concentrated on scoring points in the final Power stage. And so he did!
"After Friday it was clear to us that the only points we could score here were at the Power stage and we adapted our strategy accordingly. We really went all out. It was a perfect stage, maybe we lost a few tenths of a second here and there, but we really couldn't go any faster. The car was great all weekend and it was actually quite easy to go all out with it. The Fabia was born on these stages and it just worked really well here," Mikkelsen said of his drive.
Three bonus points secured the title for the Norwegian crew. Gus Greensmith was seventh in this stage and fourth overall in the WRC2 category. Both drivers of the Toksport WRT team with the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 cars thus have 111 points in the overall standings. However, the championship title has already been decided despite the current equal number of points. While Mikkelsen also has Japan, awaiting him in 14 days, on his list of 7 nominated events, Greensmith has already completed his 7 selected events. Even if Mikkelsen is not scoring in Japan, it won't make any difference. In the end, the number of wins in a givenn season is also important. While Greensmith has won two events, Mikkelsen has already won the first place for three times.
However, the Central European Rally did not bring only a battle for the title, but also a fierce fight for the result in its standings. For a long time, the Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hämäläinen crew was in the lead, and once again they were one of the few who did not start with a Škoda. However, they had to withdraw on Sunday morning due to technical problems. Saturday's battle between the Czech crew of Erik Cais/Daniel Trunkát and the French pair of Nicolas Ciamin/Yannick Roche in the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 proved decisive for the rally victory. The French took a narrow 2.6-second lead on Saturday and eventually managed to close the gap to the Czech duo to more than 30 seconds on Sunday and win the rally.
Third place in the competition went to the Polish duo Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak, also in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. The podium was therefore completely occupied by Škoda cars and there were 17 of them in the top 20. Czech cars also took the complete podium in the WRC2 Challenger and WRC2 Masters Cup categories. Thanks to his result from the Central European Rally, Kajetanowicz is still in with a chance of winning the the WRC2 Challenger sub-category title before the final event in Japan, as does duo Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov. The same goes for veteran Armin Kremer and his co-driver Ella Kremer in the WRC2 Masters Cup subcategory. In any case, the title here will also go to a driver with a Škoda.