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Fri 03 Jun 2022

Charging Mikkelsen forces WRC2 rivals' mistakes

Defending WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen built a commanding lead in sweltering conditions at Rally Italia Sardegna on Friday after current championship leader Yohan Rossel crashed out.

Toksport driver Mikkelsen made for a forlorn figure in the Olbia service park one year ago after rolling his Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo in 2021. However, he is now on the right track to make amends for that costly error after producing a flawless performance on a shortened Friday programme to build a 15.8sec lead over fellow Toksport pilot Nikolay Gryazin, who leads the WRC2 Junior category.

Up until SS7, Mikkelsen had been locked in a tight battle with championship leader Yohan Rossel, holding the advantage by just 6.5sec. However, the Citroën C3 driver rolled 400m into the 13.26km  Sedini – Castelsardo test, blocking the road and putting on ice any plans he had of picking up his third consecutive win.

Frenchman Rossel was not the only lead driver to come unstuck on SS7 as Teemu Suninen’s 2022 season went from bad to worse behind the wheel of his Hyundai i20 N Rally 2.

After being elevated to third position overall following the demise of Rossel, Suninen's fortunes quickly soured. The Finn picked up a broken left rear suspension on the stage, leaving him scrambling to make repairs on the road section following the flying finish. However, it would prove in vain and he was forced into retirement.

Soon after Suninen announced his retirement, the final two stages of the day were cancelled due to delays following an incident earlier in the afternoon.

That saw 2019 FIA Junior WRC champion Jan Solans elevated into third, 38.3 sec down on Mikkelsen. The Spaniard is debuting his Citroën C3 Rally2 in WRC2 in Sardinia, having finished third in WRC3 on the same rally in 2021. He also sits second behind Gryazin in the WRC2 Junior category.

Rally leader Andreas Mikkelsen was in an upbeat mood on Saturday evening, confirming his Friday strategy had paid off.

“We tried to stay away from trouble and keep a very good pace so the other guys had to push if they wanted to be there. It looks like it worked well. They made mistakes,” he smiled. 

“I am not sure what happened to Rossel,” confirmed Mikkelsen when asked about the current championship leader. “Obviously it is sad for him, but it is good for our championship,” he added. “I had zero points from Portugal, so that is helping us a bit.”

Rounding out the top five on Saturday night in Alghero was Marco Bulacia in another Škoda Fabia.

Also of note in 18th overall is former WRC regular Freddy Loix, who has commandeered another Fabia to a 41.7sec lead over Mauro Miele, who is driving a matching machine, in the WRC2 Masters category.

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