Andreas Mikkelsen has won a thrilling Azores Rally in the European Rally Championship, coming out on top of a close fight with fellow World Rally Championship driver Dani Sordo.
Mikkelsen’s first victory of the year extended his championship lead, and also ensured he maintained his 100% winning record with new co-driver Elliott Edmondson as the pair won the WRC2 class last weekend on the Acropolis Rally.
Sordo, who was driving the Team MRF entry that has been piloted by Craig Breen and Jari Huttunen earlier this season, finished 14.8 seconds behind the winner. Efrén Llarena snatched third on the final stage in another Fabia Rally2 evo as Ricardo Moura rolled, but made it to the end.
Local driver Moura – who won the Azores Rally in 2016 – was quickest out of the blocks on SS1 and in a league of his own across the first loop, constructing a near half-minute lead over Sordo’s Hyundai.
Mikkelsen had been second but lost 50s on SS2 when the wipers on his Škoda failed for several miles.
Moura would however encounter a similar problem on the repeat pass, SS5, in his Fabia, which allowed Sordo to close to just 6.4s behind.
Sordo then moved into the overnight lead after the short superspecial stage as Moura was hampered by hanging dust and lost 13.5s in just 2.5 miles.
Mikkelsen’s comeback had been impressive as he lurked just four seconds behind heading into Saturday. Two fastest times to start the second day elevated Mikkelsen into a 1.9s lead, but Sordo hit back on the famous Sete Cidades test – often referred to as the ‘volcano stage’ – to trail by just 0.1s overall.
And Sordo launched back into a 0.5s lead after another attempt at the Grupo Marques superspecial, creating the prospect of a nail-biting finale.
Mikkelsen – who won the Azores on his last visit in 2012 – had other ideas though, storming into a 7.6s advantage on the next stage after service and putting the victory out of Sordo’s reach.
“Everything was just working perfect, it was really good competition to fight for Dani,” Mikkelsen said at the end of the final stage.
Moura meanwhile lost out on a podium finish by just 3.2s after making what he described as a “stupid mistake”.
“In a very tight corner I wanted to go inside, inside, inside and I clipped the inside. That’s how it is unfortunately,” he said.
Llarena, who took his first podium of the season, added: “We are on the podium with Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo, two top drivers in the world so we are happy.”
Mikołaj Marczyk made it four Škodas in the top five by coming home fifth, 58s clear of Hyundai i20 R5 driver Umberto Scandola.
Luís Rego Jr was seventh ahead of WRC regular Benito Guerra who was making his ERC debut. Rafael Botelho was ninth and Javier Pardo Siota was 10th overall in a Suzuki Swift R4LLY S.
Reigning champion Alexey Lukyanuk’s title defense took another hit in Portugal as his event was beset with problems.
Competing on his first ERC rally since Rally di Roma – as he crashed on a pre-event test for last month’s Barum Rally Zlín – Lukyanuk lost 1m48.1s on the very first stage with a puncture.
Although the Citroën C3 Rally2 driver was quickest in dominant fashion on SS2 – 14.5s faster than any of his rivals – he was still only able to salvage seventh after the first day with a moment on SS3 and a 20s time penalty for being late to the next time control.
Lukyanuk’s event was over early on Saturday though as he picked up two punctures on the same stage, and with just one spare in the trunk of his C3, he had no option but to retire.
He was one of several top seeds not to make it to the end of the rally. Nil Solans crashed on SS1, Yoann Bonato rolled two tests later, Norbert Herczig pulled up on Saturday with broken suspension and Erik Cais – who almost pulled off a miraculous home victory last month – retired from fifth place with a radiator leak.
Final results after SS13
1 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda) 2h32m31.5s
2 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +14.8s
3 Efrén Llarena/Sara Fernandez (Škoda) +1m06.5s
4 Ricardo Moura/António Costa (Škoda) +1m09.7s
5 Miko Marczyk/Symon Gospodarczyk (Škoda) +3m05.0s
6 Umberto Scandola/Danilo Fappani (Hyundai) +4m03.0s
7 Luis Rego/Jorge Henriques (Škoda) +5m19.7s
8 Benito Guerra/Daniel Cue (Škoda) +6m50.3s
9 Rafael Botelho/Rui Raimundo (Škoda) +9m25.9s
10 Javier Pardo/Adrián Pérez (Suzuki) +13m21.6s
1 Mikkelsen 136 2 Llarena 102 3 Marczyk 95 4 Alexey Lukyanuk 67 5 Norbert Herczig 67 6 Craig Breen 43 7 Nikolay Gryazin 39 8 Giandomenico Basso 39 9 Jan Kopecký 39 10 Sordo 33