“I am very happy with the ŠKODA FABIA R5! It goes without saying that it was a big adjustment at first, but we started cautiously and then gradually upped the tempo. We now feel right at home in the car, although they were really extremely difficult conditions,” said Mikkelsen. The 27-year-old Norwegian was part of the Volkswagen Motorsport team that won the World Rally Championship in each of the past four years. However, Mikkelsen’s route to becoming one of the top rally drivers in the world started with titles in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in 2011 and 2012 with ŠKODA.
Returning to his roots, the fan favourite won his first special stage in the ŠKODA FABIA R5 shortly after the official start in glamorous Monte Carlo on Thursday. On Friday, ŠKODA works driver Kopecký was the fastest man at first, but Mikkelsen then upped the pace on the narrow, winding roads. The Norwegian was a full 46.5 seconds faster than second-placed Frenchman Bryan Bouffier the first time the drivers tackled “Aspres les Corps – Chaillol” – at 38.94 kilometres the longest stage on the Monte. Mikkelsen has won six of the seven special stages so far. Jan Kopecký lost a lot of time due to a puncture on Friday morning, but fought his way back to end the opening day in second place in WRC 2.
“I hope we can defend this position. There is still a long way to go, and we will continue to fight hard,” said Czech champion Kopecký. ŠKODA works duo Pontus Tidemand/Jonas Andersson (S/S), who are not eligible to score world championship points at this rally, also impressed. Tidemand showed his potential with a number of top-three times on his first outing at the Monte. His goal is to present ŠKODA Motorsport with another world championship title this year. In 2016, the works team from Mladá Boleslav won the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championship in WRC 2 for the first time, courtesy of Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (FIN/FIN) in the ŠKODA FABIA R5.
The thousands of fans lining the route were treated to a special livery on the works team’s three ŠKODA FABIA R5s. The blue and red stripes on the rally cars are a nod to the manufacturer’s legendary victory at this very event 40 years ago. Four decades ago, Václav Blahna (CZ) and his co-driver Lubislav Hlávka (CZ) triumphed in the 1,300 cc class in their ŠKODA 130 RS. The works team is now well on track to repeat this feat in 2017. However, they have yet to complete half of the kilometres against the clock: another 175 kilometres await Mikkelsen and Co. on Saturday and Sunday.
Standings at the Rally Monte Carlo (WRC 2):
1. Mikkelsen/Jæger (N/N) ŠKODA FABIA R5 2:11:15.4 hrs
2. Kopecký/Dresler (CZ/CZ) ŠKODA FABIA R5 + 2:47.4 min
3. Bouffier/Giraudet (F/F) Ford Fiesta R5 + 4:55.0 min
4. Camilli/Veillas (F/F) Ford Fiesta R5 + 7:44.6 min
5. Gilbert/Jamoul (F/B) Ford Fiesta R5 + 7:58.5 min
Number of the day: 1574
Friday’s special stages at the Rally Monte Carlo saw the competitors climb to 1574 metres above sea level in the French Alps. The highest point of the day came on the Col de Moissière. However, this is set to be topped by the iconic Col de Turini pass (1607 metres) on Sunday. This year, particularly large quantities of snow and ice on the winding roads are making life difficult for the drivers.
2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC 2)
Rally Monte Carlo 19.01.–22.01.2017
Rally Sweden 09.02.–12.02.2017
Rally Mexico 09.03.–12.03.2017
Rally France 06.04.–09.04.2017
Rally Argentina 27.04.–30.04.2017
Rally Portugal 18.05.–21.05.2017
Rally Italy 08.06.–11.06.2017
Rally Poland 29.06.–02.07.2017
Rally Finland 27.07.–30.07.2017
Rally Germany 17.08.–20.08.2017
Rally Spain 05.10.–08.10.2017
Rally Great Britain 26.10.–29.10.2017
Rally Australia 16.11.–19.11.2017