Mikkelsen, from Norway, began day two of the Welsh gravel event 32.8s in front of Jari Ketomaa, who along with Xevi Pons and Patrik Sandell, is one of three drivers in contention for the S-WRC crown.
Despite slippery conditions and the inclusion of asphalt sections on the route today, Mikkelsen had reported a trouble-free run at the wheel of his Skoda Fabia Super 2000 until a heavy landing forced the exhaust into the bumper and filled the cockpit with toxic fumes when it began to smoulder.
“My pace was very good for the first stage then after that I slowed down a bit to be cautious,” said Mikkelsen, who leads by 25 seconds overnight. “The problem in the afternoon made my eyes water but I am okay. I’ve been confident with my car but the pace this afternoon has been stupid, so on the limit.”
Behind Mikkelsen, the S-WRC title remains tantalisingly out of reach for Ketomaa but ever more achievable for his main rival and fellow Ford Fiesta driver Pons, despite the fact he trails the Finn in the overall classification. If the positions remain unchanged at the finish in Cardiff on Sunday afternoon, Pons will take the title by four points with Ketomaa having to make do with second place.
Ketomaa was fastest on four of Saturday’s eight forest stages having improved the handling of his Fiesta at Friday’s final service with a series of set-up changes. “We changed the dampers, the springs and the rollbar, which has given us a lot more grip coming out of the corners. At the moment we still won’t win the title unless something happens to Pons. All I can do is drive but we are on the limit and can’t go any faster.”
Pons has yet to show the kind of pace that carried him to two early season S-WRC victories but, as the Spanish driver was quick to point out, neither has he had to. “This position is fantastic for taking the title and that is all I am thinking about,” he said.
Irishman Craig Been, who like Mikkelsen is eligible to score S-WRC points for the first time, holds fourth in his Fiesta, with Sandell battling up to fifth place. However, the Swede remains crestfallen after powersteering failure on Friday afternoon all but dropped him out of championship contention in his Fabia.
“I'm not in the same rhythm like I was yesterday because the gap is now so big and it is hard,” said Sandell. “But I still have to catch Breen to give Red Bull the Teams' Cup, which is my main focus now. For the drivers' title I really can't do anything about it - it's up to the others to make mistakes.”
Pole Michal Kosciuszko completes the six surviving runners in another Fabia following a spin and a stall on Saturday morning.
Eyvind Brynildsen was third heading into day two but went off the road on a tightening left-hander approximately five kilometres into stage nine where he got stuck and retired.
"I’ve been confident with my car but the pace this afternoon has been stupid, so on the limit”