Two drivers plying their trade in the WRC’s headline category just two months ago head a high-quality WRC 2 entry at the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo this week.
Andreas Mikkelsen won November’s season finale outright in Australia to finish third in the final standings. But, in a bizarre twist of circumstances, he starts the four-day encounter in the French Alps as favourite to win the principal support category.
Volkswagen’s unexpected withdrawal from the WRC left Mikkelsen without a full-time drive for 2017. Instead the Norwegian will make a guest appearance in a Fabia R5 for Skoda Motorsport, the team for whom he won the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in 2011 and 2012.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in the car but we had some time in it before Christmas and also two days testing last week. Hopefully it won’t take too long before I find the new rhythm. We’ve worked hard with our preparations so I feel we are ready,” said Mikkelsen.
Returning to WRC 2 after a year in the top flight is Eric Camilli. After a disappointing debut World Rally Car season with M-Sport, the Frenchman nevertheless hoped to retain his seat. However, the British team’s signing of Sébastien Ogier ended that chance and he is back in a Ford Fiesta R5.
Skoda also fields Czech champion and asphalt expert Jan Kopecký and Pontus Tidemand, who is not eligible for points. All three Fabias will be adorned with the same blue and red stripes (main picture) that Václav Blahna’s Skoda 130 RS carried when he won the class here 40 years ago.
Other leading contenders include French quartet Bryan Bouffier (Fiesta R5), who won the rally outright in 2011, Quentin Gilbert, who has switched from a Citroën DS 3 R5 to a Fiesta, Yoann Bonato (DS 3 R5) and Quentin Giordano (Peugeot 208 R5).
German Armin Kremer (Fabia R5) finished second here last year and 2016 Italian champion Giandomenico Basso (Fiesta R5) makes his WRC 2 debut on only his third WRC start in more than 12 years.