When Andreas Mikkelsen wakes up to his weekend in Boxer, Germany, it will be to wildly mixed emotions.
He’s the man giving one of the world’s most eagerly awaited rally cars its competitive debut. But he’s doing it wearing overalls he thought he was done with.
Up until a few days ago, the Norwegian was ready to dive into his wardrobe and dust down a blue and orange number he hadn’t worn since the end of 2019. Until a few days ago, Andreas Mikkelsen was a nailed on certainty to be a Hyundai Motorsport driver in 2023.
Then came EP.
Esapekka Lappi’s deal to jump ship from Toyota to Hyundai cost Mikkelsen his seat.
Not that Mikkelsen’s blaming Lappi. He’s not blaming anybody.
The three-time World Rally winner’s silence on the subject is enormously dignified, if not a touch unhelpful in filling this space.
He’s been there before: in 2017, he was a shoo-in at Toyota until Jari-Matti Latvala landed a last-minute deal to drive a Yaris WRC.
Instead of plotting Toyota’s Monte Carlo Rally downfall from within an i20 N Rally1, Mikkelsen faces more Škoda seat time – unless he can land a late deal with M-Sport or, er, Toyota.
With 125 world championship starts under his belt, Mikkelsen is one of the most experienced current drivers on the subs bench. And he feels he’s still got plenty to give.
“I feel very ready to get back [to the WRC’s top flight],” he said. “Last time I was at the top [category, in Hyundai], that was not a successful period. It was basically the only time in my career when I struggled to drive.
“When you look at the Volkswagen, the Škoda, the Citroën we were always really, really quick. I hope I can get another opportunity.
“Two years in WRC2 has kept me sharp and doing all the Pirelli testing in a World Rally Car has kept me in this [style of car]. It’s no problem for me to go from WRC2 to the top category – I find it harder the other way around.
“I would grab the opportunity with both hands. I feel I have proven myself in WRC2. With the knowledge from the last two years by trying to get the last tenth of a second out has made me a better driver.”
But now, the future can wait. Another future’s arrived.
After a false start in Finland, Škoda’s rocketship, Rally2 re-defining RS has arrived.
Welcome to Lausitz Rallye, 2022.
Shorn of the bells, the whistles, the hanging cars and the banners draped across buildings around Jyväskylä, it’s here, halfway between Frankfurt and Stuttgart that Mikkelsen will see the fruit of Škoda’s labors.
“It’s nice to be here now,” he said. “It’s nice to compete with this car. OK, this is not WRC2, but there’s some good drivers here and some good cars. A lot of the drivers are here every year, but this is my first time.
“We will get a feeling of where we are now. Testing is testing. It’s the same road all day. It’s here, on a rally where you really discover the car on the road.
At the moment, Saturday’s 10-stage, 90-mile gravel event is Mikkelsen’s only planned outing in the Fabia RS Rally2. Will it stay that way?