WRC2 and European Rally champion Andreas Mikkelsen will make his Dakar Rally debut as a replacement for American Mitch Guthrie, who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Mikkelsen will drive in the Lightweight Prototype T3 class aboard an Overdrive Racing OT3 as part of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior team.
He will be partnered by semi-regular rallying co-driver Ola Fløene – Mikkelsen’s long-time WRC partner – for the marathon 12-day rally raid which starts with the Prologue on Saturday.
Guthrie, who has two Dakar participations to his name but has failed to finish either, revealed on social media that he had returned a positive test and would have to sit out the event.
“Absolutely heartbroken. I will not be able to compete in this year’s Dakar Rally due to a positive COVID test,” he wrote.
“I feel 100% fine and have been quarantined since my test praying there is some way to race but here we are.
“Really no words, just bummed to be in this situation but it is what it is and there is nothing I can do about it.
“I want to wish my amazing Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team team-mates an amazing race as well as Andreas Mikkelsen who will be taking my place alongside Ola Fløene.
“Thank you so much to our entire team for all of the hard work to get us here and I know this year it is going to pay off!”
Mikkelsen will partner Red Bull’s regulars Seth Quintero and Cristina Gutierréz for the 44th edition of the rally raid.
Speaking about the late addition to the Dakar field, Mikkelsen said: “I’m surprised to be here as this was not the original plan, but this is the situation in the world at the moment.
“I feel really sorry for Mitch. I’ve spoken to Ola and heard how much they had prepared for this rally. I will try and do my best for these next two weeks. I’m used to races that last just one weekend so it’s going to be really different for me.”
Mikkelsen will have to adapt to the OT3 from the Prologue, having never driven a Lightweight Prototype or competed in the Saudi Arabian desert before.
Despite being thrown in at the deep end, Mikkelsen is keen to use the Dakar as a “learning experience”.
“I don’t really feel very prepared. I’ve never driven these cars before, in fact I just drove it for the first time on a small test one day before the rally. Now the prologue stage is coming so I’m really excited. I’ll be taking things step by step.
“I don’t feel especially nervous because this will just be a learning experience for me. Hopefully we will make it to the end, that’s the big aim. I want to get the maximum milage and learn everything I can for the future. I’m just really excited to get stuck into what’s coming in the next two weeks.”