Nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb and his navigator Laurène Godey won the Rally of the Azores during their first start with Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. Thanks to the Mikkelsen/Eriksen and Cais/Těšínský crews, the Fabia RS Rally2 also won every stage of the event.
The Azores Rally, held on the island of São Miguel, is part of the Tour European Rally Championship this season. The volcanic origin of the island and the local mild climate with its high humidity make the rally an unforgettable experience not only for the drivers but also for the spectators. The breath-taking scenery with volcanic craters, tropical forest-like woodlands and high cliffs whipped by the Atlantic Ocean give the local gravel stages a unique backdrop. However, the Azores rally can also be treacherous, especially with its fast-changing weather and different types of gravel. Some of the stages have a relatively loose surface, while others are harder and very slippery with frequent rain. The car set-up needs to find the right combination of grip on the softer set-up and precision, which is crucial on the narrow Azores tracks.
This year's Azores Rally was a very special one because it was the first time that a legend of the rallying world - Sébastien Loeb - was behind the wheel of a Škoda car in the Toksport WRT team. Already during the pre-event test he felt comfortable in the car. "The start here in the Azores was a bit dramatic, the weather was changing a lot and there was a lot of fog during the reconnaissance, but we were lucky and it got better during the race. The stages were beautiful. I haven't driven much with the Rally2 cars, but I chose Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 for the Azores because I had heard it was the best. I felt very comfortable in the car from the start and I have to say that I had a great time in the local conditions and I really enjoyed it," Loeb summed up his impressions. And you could tell seeing him behind the wheel.
Loeb and co-driver Laurène Godey were fastest on four of the opening five stages and by Friday evening had built up a 15.1-second lead over the Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen crew. The Norwegians weren't so happy, as they made a couple of small mistakes during the day, which cost them valuable time. However, they began to make up for it during Saturday's stage, when the Loeb/Godey crew started first of all the crews and had to clear the track. During the morning, the French lead had shrunk to 11.4 seconds and after ten stages it was just 8.4 seconds. "We really pushed hard because when you're competing with Sébastien you have to give it your best. Especially on the second day it was very intense, we made a small mistake, lost a little time, but it was a great battle! I felt great in the car the whole time. I think the fans and spectators must have enjoyed it too, because watching Sébastien behind the wheel of the Škoda is great," Mikkelsen described his battle with the French legend. However, Mikkelsen lost less than 10 seconds in SS11 and the race was decided even before the final Power stage. The nine-time world champion did not allow for this victory to slip through his fingers. The Loeb/Godey duo eventually beat the Mikkelsen/Eriksen crew by 19.2 seconds. The Cais/Tesinsky crew had been reaching for the third place for a long time, but a puncture during the last stage took excluded them from the race. It was a shame, because Cais managed to win SS11 with a great drive and seemed to be really confident of pulling back his one-second lead in the last timed test. Third place went to Nil Solans and co-driver Marco Martí from Spain driving the previous generation Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo. Overall, the first eight places in the final classification were taken by crews driving the Škoda Fabia.