Andreas Mikkelsen dominates RACMSA Rally of Scotland
Andreas Mikkelsen's season finally came good this weekend when he won the Rally of Scotland to become the youngest driver to claim a victory on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
The highly-rated Norwegian driver has come under some pressure for results as the season has progressed and with two near misses on the preceding two rallies in Hungary and San Remo, victory in Scotland will go some way to answering the critics.
The penultimate round of the IRC got off to a poignant start when local hero and former British Rally Champion, Jim McRae, pulled away from the podium to the cheers of the crowds and flashing cameras in his son Colin's 1991 British Rally Championship-winning Subaru Legacy.
Then the more modern machinery of the IRC headed off into the forests and countryside of Perthshire with another former BRC champion, Guy Wilks, setting the early pace in his Peugeot 207 S2000 with a time of 5m24.8s on SS1 closely followed by the Skoda Fabias of Juho Hanninen and Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen described the opening stage as very slippery in first and second gear, 'with some unexpected corners coming up'.
Wilks improved on his lead on the second stage with an overall pace of 4.4s in front of his competitors.
It was in the pitch black forest route of SS3 where Mikkelsen began to close the gap and a determined drive in his Skoda S2000 saw him move up to second overall and to within 3.5s of the leader, Wilks.
After fully finding his feet on the following stage to take the overall lead, Mikkelsen's task was made easier when Wilks lost 33s after a rear puncture sent him spinning. He admitted to pushing the car too hard.
With a reasonably comfortable lead, Mikkelsen's attentions turned to controlling the rally from the front and maintaining his advantage. He managed his pace and, although he lost more than 12s on the afternoon run at SS6 Craigvinean, he stayed 33.1s ahead of new rival, Thierry Neuville.
After Bryan Bouffier responded to Mikkelsen's slow drive - the Monte Carlo winner was hot on Mikkelsen and Hanninen's heels until SS12 when he lost braking power on the repeat of Loch Chon - the Norwegian was reportedly told by his Skoda team to get more aggressive in order to keep the chasing pack at bay.
Although a rogue rock threatened his suspension and his lead, Mikkelsen managed to get away with a puncture and maintained his lead of more than 30s ahead of Hanninen and a minute and a half in front of Bouffier.
The 22-year-old showed a cool head in the final stages, keeping calm and collected and driving with a noticeable fluidity and rhythm through the Scone Palace stage to complete his maiden IRC victory.
With just one event left in the season, Mikkelsen can hope for a best final placing of third in the drivers' points while Skoda will be pushing him and Hanninen to repeat their one-two finish of this weekend.