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Fri 17 Nov 2023

Mighty Mikkelsen masters the Japanese rain

Andreas Mikkelsen has already sealed the 2023 WRC2 title - but the Norwegian driver showed no signs of slowing down on a wet and wild Friday at FORUM8 Rally Japan.

Mikkelsen and co-driver Torstein Eriksen arrived in Japan under no pressure to perform, having already sealed the coveted WRC2 crown just a fortnight ago at Central European Rally. Nevertheless, the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 duo led the category by 29.4sec overnight having excelled in Friday’s waterlogged conditions.


Even more impressive, perhaps, was Mikkelsen’s overall standing of fourth in the outright rally classification. Several of the top-level Rally1 runners were hindered by fogged-up windscreens but Mikkelsen, who went third-fastest overall in SS3, encountered no visibility issues whatsoever.


Mikkelsen headed second-placed Nikolay Gryazin overnight and, while he hopes to continue impressing here in Japan, he will also be keeping a close eye on the goings on in Macau this weekend as close friend and fellow Norwegian Dennis Hauger prepares for his FIA Formula 3 World Cup debut.


"It's been a very good day," said Mikkelsen. "Before lunch we had a good push and after that I tried to drive clever in the afternoon. Tricky conditions but so far, so good."


Gryazin’s primary focus was not on the happenings in front of him, but those behind. He and Kajetan Kajetanowicz are fighting for the WRC2 Challenger title this week and, although Gryazin tops the timesheets at present, Kajetanowicz’s current standing of third in the class would be enough for him to take the crown.


Former F1 race winner Heikki Kovalainen proved he is no slouch behind the wheel of a rally car, placing his ex-Esapekka Lappi Fabia R5 on the outright WRC2 podium alongside co-driver Sae Kitagawa. The Finn trailed Gryazin by more than two minutes with Kajetanowicz, also driving a Škoda, a similar distance behind. Japan native Osamu Fukunaga completed the top five.