Andreas Mikkelsen’s entry for next month’s Rally Japan has put a very different complexion on this week’s Central European Rally.
Finding budget for a trip to the east means the Norwegian is now a very firm favorite for the WRC2 title. He tops the table and can still count scores from two more rallies – one more than his main rivals, Citroën driver Yohan Rossel and his fellow Toksport Škoda team-mate Gus Greensmith.
Predictably, Mikkelsen is relaxed on the eve of the event.
“It would be nice if we could win it here,” he told DirtFish, “because then we could do exactly what we want to do in Japan – to go there and push without thinking of any consequences.
“It’s not nice when you just have to finish a rally.
“This week, I’ll just drive like I feel comfortable. I expect a lot will happen on this rally. If you push hard here you can so easily end up in a ditch and zero-pointing – this is the nightmare.
“I’ll drive what I think is [the] correct [speed] and I won’t be stressed if we are some seconds behind after the first stages – it’s a long rally.”
Targeting a second WRC2 title as the season draws to a close looked a distant possibility at the top of 2023, when Mikkelsen was struggling to find a way to finance his season – having communicated his exit from Škoda for Hyundai, only to find Esapekka Lappi sitting in the i20 N Rally1 seat he thought had his name on.
But Mikkelsen’s got there. He’s managed what even he felt was an unlikely seven-round campaign. Now he has to make the best use of it.
Of the five WRC2 ronds he’s started this season, he’s won three. Staying ahead of Rossel and Greensmith will ensure him of a second WRC2 title in three years.
The Passau-based CER is not, however, going to be a straightforward affair. With rain forecast on Friday, Mikkelsen says the event could become something of a mudbath.
“There will be so much gravel pulled out if it rains – more than any other event,” he explained.
“We have anti-cutting things in many of the corners, but there are many more where we don’t. It could be a mud rally. And Friday especially, there will be no room for error there. It’s so narrow, so difficult; go a little bit wide and you will hit something or pick up a puncture.”