Defending WRC2 Champion Mads Østberg believes Andreas Mikkelsen isn’t the biggest threat to his title defense with Citroën, despite the Toksport driver’s hopes of ‘dominating’ the series.
Mikkelsen was forced to skip Rally Portugal due to a positive COVID-19 test but is back for this week’s Rally Italy, which will be his first gravel event with the newer Rally2-spec Škoda Fabia.
Despite Mikkelsen’s early-season favorite tag, in which he stated his intention to dominate the series to aid his bid for a top-level World Rally Championship return in 2022, Østberg believes the biggest threat for the WRC2 title comes from elsewhere.
“It was nice to hear him say it because I was quite sure that wasn’t going to happen,” Østberg told DirtFish.
“I preferred to stay quiet and just prove him wrong, and I think so far we have done [that]. But for sure we know the quality of Andreas is really high and we need to respect his speed all the way through the season.
“It’s a long season and for sure some rallies he will be fast, and we will be fast on other events. And there’s plenty of other drivers as well which will challenge us.
“At the moment, Andreas is probably not our biggest rival. I think there are some other names there which are stronger at this point.
“But for sure this weekend Andreas will show his pace again and his car seems to be strong as well. It’s nice to have him there, I really enjoy the fight with him.”
Hopes of Mikkelsen dominating the category may be fading, but the three-time WRC event winner pointed out the goalposts had moved since the season began with more names joining the field.
“This season turned out to be very competitive. A lot of drivers which were not planned [to compete] in the beginning of the season [entered], so it’s more difficult to dominate than I first expected,” Mikkelsen told DirtFish.
“But anyway, the competition is great and it’s good for everyone. It also helps to have good people to fight with. To try to win those fights against good drivers is always good.
“It makes it interesting going into this weekend as well. There’s some tough names on the board so I’m looking forward to starting Sardinia, and just so sad I couldn’t do Portugal.”
Mikkelsen leads the WRC2 standings on 68 points heading to Italy, but has competed in one more event than Østberg, who is 24 points behind in fourth.
Another WRC2 champion of the past, Esapekka Lappi, will not compete in Italy but is sitting pretty in the overall standings, only nine points behind Mikkelsen despite competing in one less event.