Here’s a simple way to look at this year’s intensifying WRC2 title fight: Kajetan Kajetanowicz is David and Andreas Mikkelsen is Goliath.
Kajetanowicz, although a triple European Rally champion, cannot necessarily compete with Mikkelsen, a three-time World Rally Championship winner, on an even keel.
But just like in the famous story from the old testament, sometimes the less fancied party can come out on top.
While there hasn’t exactly been a divine intervention from the heavens above in the race to be 2022 WRC2 champion, two consecutive engine-related DNFs have given the rest a chance against the reigning champion and most complete driver in the field: Mikkelsen.
And, despite sitting just fourth in the classification with only three rounds to go, it’s Kajetanowicz that poses Mikkelsen his biggest threat. While David used stones to defeat Goliath, Kajetanowicz has activated something even more powerful – his brain.
A WRC2 competitor’s final points tally is decided by their best six scores from a maximum of seven events. But points can be accumulated on any 13 of this year’s WRC rounds, meaning that it’s entirely possible for two WRC2 drivers to meet each other just once throughout the entire season.
This isn’t right, argues Mikkelsen. It shouldn’t be that a world championship can be settled without the two rivals ever really battling.
“Let’s say we chose five rallies where we all have to compete, the entry list for the other events on the [WRC] calendar won’t be great. That’s the tricky part and I’m not sure how to solve it,” Mikkelsen told DirtFish.
“But, we should try to find a way that we all try to drive the same rallies, we are all in the competition together and no-one is flying off to other countries where no one else is doing [them].”
Kajetanowicz isn’t here to argue, but he also doesn’t make the rules. He’s here to try and win himself a championship and, obviously, his best chance of doing that is by racking up as many points as he possibly can.
Nothing is ever certain in rallying, but entering battle with your main rival and the fastest driver in a Rally2 car sitting at home instead will boost Kajetanowicz’s chances of securing the most points possible.
So while Mikkelsen’s season is over – with wins in Monte Carlo, Sweden and Estonia, a second in Ypres, seventh in Acropolis (following that shunt into the barriers on the superspecial) and a big fat zero given his two consecutive DNFs – Kajetanowicz’s year is only now about to hit top gear.
Second in Croatia and Portugal, Kajetanowicz made the trip and dominated the Safari Rally but was only fifth in Estonia – and hasn’t competed since. But all being well this won’t really matter, as remember he can drop his worst score.
It’s strong strategic play, it really is.
“Andreas is a great driver and he doesn’t need to prove that to anyone, but driving for a factory team against a privateer such as ourselves gives him a bit of an advantage,” Kajetanowicz tells DirtFish.
“But at the same time, you have to respect all your competitors and I think Andreas didn’t take me seriously before the season. He’s undoubtedly fast so to be his opponent in a title fight is something special.
“However, looking at my strategy and the rules, do you remember the situation from last year when Emil Lindholm entered his co-driver for competition in Rally Catalunya, but he was the real driver?
“I expected these rules before this season, and he took away some points from us and we finished in second position instead of first, but I did not protest because I accept these rules.”
For reference, Kajetanowicz would have been WRC3 champion in 2021 had Lindholm not pulled off that sneaky trick that was totally legal last year but has now been tightened for this season.
“I am doing my job,” he says. “I try to think not only about the stages but also about the strategy. I am the boss of the team, this is another job for me, as well as raising my kids. I have big respect for my rivals but I have no time to think about their problems.
“I don’t want to be rude but you know what I mean. I am doing my job.
“On the other side, it’s not bad for us. An old driver from a small village in Poland is dangerous for the factory driver. It’s not bad, let’s say,” he chuckles.
Kajetanowicz’s message, then, is simple. His strategic masterplan is totally above board, and he will make no apologies for his chosen route to try and win the WRC2 title.
The burning question then is, can he? While avoiding Mikkelsen does clear Kajetanowicz of one of his rivals, he still has to do the business on the stages to close his 33-point deficit to Mikkelsen.
That mission starts next week in New Zealand, where a victory could be extremely tricky given Hayden Paddon is in town.
“I have never been to New Zealand, I have never thought I would travel even for a holiday there because it’s the other end of the world for us in Europe. It’s a new island for me, a new part of the world but I’m happy,” Kajetanowicz says.
“For sure the competition will be tough but I am looking forward, expecting Hayden Paddon to be extremely fast. Extremely.
“But I think not only he could be quick because those stages are very famous, everyone who will be there from New Zealand, they know the roads, every corner, you know what I mean.
“It’s always the biggest challenge for a new driver.”
And therein lies a key drawback with Kajetanowicz’s approach. Contesting all three flyaways (Kenya, New Zealand and the season finale in Japan) may reduce the number of cars he’s up against, but it forfeits any experience he has accumulated over the years.
“In order to take part in New Zealand I had to resign from participation in Acropolis Rally, which I know and have won three times – two times in European championship and one more time last year [in WRC3],” Kajetanowicz points out.
“So I dropped the rally which I know, instead choosing events outside Europe because I know it will be a good strategic solution of course, and I’m sure it will be a huge sporting challenge. And that’s it I think.”
Kajetanowicz will have more eyes on him than he’s ever had before since migrating from the ERC to the WRC in 2018, as onlookers watch his performances with interest to see if he can really rip the title from Mikkelsen’s grasp.
Naturally, that creates pressure. But pressure: what pressure? That’s Kajetanowicz retort as he explains why he won’t be fazed by any external expectations.
“My strategy is to have fun and to fight for the victory, like always, but I don’t need to do it. I don’t have to do it. I want to do it,” he says.
“It’s not the same [as others], because some drivers, they must do it. They need to do it so much and that’s why they put too much pressure on themselves. OK, I have pressure on myself but I try to be on the safe side with myself.
“I don’t know how to explain it to you but I want to have fun. I want to fight with these drivers, I’m happy where I am. I appreciate it, because maybe you don’t know how my career had been before, but from zero, maybe not to hero, but from completely zero to where I am now.
“I would like to tell you and all young drivers that they should not give up,” Kajetanowicz adds.
“They need to fight for their dream because I did it, my example of fighting from zero without any money shows that you can reach a stage where you compete against the best drivers in the world.
“It’s fantastic, I hope that my story of progress in rallying, in motorsport could motivate others. You have to just believe that the success is within your reach.
“Never give up and fight for your dreams. Even if the situation does not look good, you need to do it, you can do it. This is the proof.
“I enjoy every day in my life with rallying and that’s why New Zealand is another dream
come true. This is beautiful for me and I want to complete every meter of these stages in New Zealand.”
Of course it's my dream to be a champion, but if I don't do it it's not the end of the worldKajetan Kajetanowicz
Mikkelsen may not like the way this season is panning out, but nothing can be taken away from Kajetanowicz. Another WRC2 title is unlikely to change much for Mikkelsen whose strong reputation will remain intact regardless, but it could be the ultimate coronation for Kajetanowicz who, at 43, is extremely unlikely to progress further in rallying.
“Of course it’s my dream to be a champion, but if I don’t do it it’s not the end of the world,” he says.
“I’m happy because I can fight on the top level in the World Rally Championship, I can do it with fantastic people, I have a great team with big passion, a big heart to fight, and we enjoy a lot – a lot.
“This is our time, and I want to enjoy this as much as I can.”
And who can blame him? David has Goliath in his sights, he’s lined up the shot, he now just needs to execute it.