Andreas Mikkelsen remained upbeat, even if the odds were stacked against him.
After bizarrely suffering three punctures and all three on the same rear-left corner of his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, the WRC2 points leader was all the way down in 12th in class after Friday on Acropolis Rally Greece.
Far from ideal for his championship challenge. But he was defiant.
“We’re still in the game,” he told DirtFish.
It seemed optimistic at best.
But Mikkelsen produced a stunning Saturday to climb all the way up to first over the course of six stages – winning stages by as much as 20 seconds to head Gus Greensmith by just 0.4s going into the final day.
The beast inside him had been awoken.
“Today has been really incredible, I would say probably one of my best days in a rally car,” Mikkelsen admitted.
“We’ve been pushing to the maximum every corner today so to come out with no issues, just constant great stage times has been really, really nice.
“The car has been working amazing today and you know when you drive for a championship like this you don’t have a lot of rallies, so a DNF you cannot have that.
“After yesterday we decided OK let’s go… we cannot come here with seventh place, it doesn’t give us any points so we tried like last year, just go maximum and if we are off the road we’re off the road.
“And to drive like that is not something you do very often in WRC2 because you have to be clever, but today you just let your inner beast out and give everything.
“So today we gave everything, I am really proud of today.”
Mikkelsen’s rampage has been a necessity for his championship bid, as he doesn’t have the luxury of a seventh round he can drop like most of his rivals.
His strategy to push on a rally as rough as the Acropolis was a bold one, but he’s cashed in beautifully.
“You would never catch 1m40s in Finland, no chance, it’s impossible. Here it’s possible because it’s so rough, people are taking care and if you don’t care you can gain a lot of time,” Mikkelsen said.
“So that’s what we’ve done today.”
And tomorrow, will the inner beast be unleashed once more?
Greensmith disputes Mikkelsen’s lead
Although the classification states Mikkelsen is 0.4s ahead with three stages remaining, Greensmith feels he should be leading instead as he called a notional time Mikkelsen was handed into question.
Mikkelsen – along with Adrien Fourmaux, Alejandro Cachón, Martin Prokop and Miko Marczyk – was handed a notional time for SS10 which was red flagged.
The time the Norwegian was given was 22.3s better than what Fourmaux was handed, and 28.3s faster than Greensmith who was the fastest Rally2 driver to actually complete the stage.
The Briton feels Mikkelsen gained too much. “It’s been a bloody tough day,” he told DirtFish.
“The morning we had quite bad brake issues which we were struggling with, and then this afternoon has been much better, we were managing the gap we thought we had to Andreas and then yeah we’ve seen this notional time 27 seconds [faster] which is over a second a kilometer, so we’re not really sure why that is but I’ll leave that to the team for them to sort out.
“From my side, happy with how the day’s gone.”
Mikkelsen admitted he was given a “very good time” but didn’t see why it was unjust.
“Maybe this time it was in my favor,” he said.
“I’ve been many rallies where it’s not been in my favor because normally they take the first pass time and if you did a bad first pass you get a bad time second pass.
“We had a very good run the first pass and they gave us a good time on the second.
“In one way it was good, but my tire choice, three softs, everyone else was crossed and it was fully damp from 10km out I expected to take a lot of time in that stage, so in the end we had a red flag, I never got to prove it, so if the time is good or bad I don’t know. It’s hard to say.”
Regardless, a big fight is expected tomorrow.
“The fact of the matter is I have to win for the championship,” said Greensmith.
“I can’t let Andreas take any more points, so that’ll be it really. Just push, or if not [and Mikkelsen’s time is amended I’ll] defend.
“We’ll have to see, it’ll be what it’ll be. Exciting one way or another.”