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Monday, March 4, 2024

How being a goal for younger drivers spurred Mikkelsen again to WRC

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It’s truthful to say Andreas Mikkelsen has been knocking on the door for a return to the World Rally Championship ever since falling out of the highest tier in 2019. These knocks have turn out to be more and more louder after successful two WRC2 titles and a European Rally Championship, however nonetheless the three-time WRC rally winner felt at instances that he would by no means style the large time once more.

After coming so near a return this yr earlier than Hyundai made a late swoop for Esapekka Lappi, Mikkelsen has achieved the aim he set out 4 years in the past after putting pen to paper on a deal this week to share Hyundai’s third WRC i20 N challenger with Lappi and Dani Sordo

“I’ve been attempting arduous to return again to the highest degree since 2019 after we completed with Hyundai, so it has been some lengthy years I’d say,” Mikkelsen tells Autosport at Hyundai’s Alzenau WRC headquarters contemporary from signing his one-year contract.

“I’m very pleased now to be again and preventing with the large boys. I used to be very shut final yr. After 2020 and 2021 no, however after final season I used to be very shut.”

The deal marks a full circle second for the 34-year-old Norwegian because it was at Hyundai when he final drove within the WRC’s high flight in 2019. He completed fourth within the championship that yr, regardless of lacking three rounds, as Hyundai rotated its drivers Sebastien Loeb, Thierry Neuville, Sordo and Craig Breen between the sky blue and orange machines.

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However come 2020 Mikkelsen’s identify was a notable omission from the Hyundai line-up. Ott Tanak was signed from Toyota to hitch Neuville, whereas Loeb, Sordo and Breen shared the third automobile.

It got here as a shock contemplating Mikkelsen had emerged as a real rising star throughout his four-year stint at Volkswagen, that included three wins. The final of these, at Rally Australia in 2016, was maybe arguably essentially the most spectacular as he defeated world champion team-mate Sebastien Ogier truthful and sq.. 

Photograph by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Mikkelsen has been absent from the highest degree of the WRC since 2019 when he final competed for Hyundai

After dropping his drive at Hyundai, the COVID-ravaged 2020 season left Mikkelsen with only one WRC2 outing as he started to plot a journey again to the highest. Skoda proved to be his saviour within the type of a WRC2 programme with Toksport, however it might be a pressure-filled three seasons competing towards a bunch of younger hungry abilities aiming to take the scalp of a WRC rally winner.

Figuring out that failure to beat them may have ended any hopes of returning to the highest flight, stress from the younger abilities spurred him on. However as Mikkelsen explains, there have been darkish moments too.

“Yeah completely, I had these ideas [that I would never drive at the WRC top level again],” he tells Autosport. ”Yearly I used to be out of the WRC, I assumed the potential going again was much less and fewer. However the one factor I had in my thoughts was that if I win in WRC2 I should be first on the listing, that was my goal. If a chance comes, I’d be first on the listing.

“To be sincere the final yr I used to be truly not so anxious anymore, possibly it was one thing to do when our child [Max] arrived. There are different pleasures in life and also you don’t have to be within the WRC to have a pleasant life” Andreas Mikkelsen

“In a technique, I at all times felt like a goal for the younger drivers. As a result of if I get crushed by them, then I’m completed. I’m completed. I’ve been a goal within the final seasons, however ultimately we received rallies and received championships. I discovered it unusual at instances [seeing other drivers get WRC drives] as a result of I felt we had been on the high of the listing and we didn’t get the chance.”

Success in WRC2 was a right away message to the WRC that Mikkelsen was nonetheless a drive to be reckoned with. He swept to a WRC2 and European Rally Championship double in 2021, completed runner-up to Emil Lindholm in WRC2 in 2022, earlier than claiming this yr’s WRC2 crown. This newest title is most spectacular contemplating he began the yr and not using a programme, earlier than being thrust again into battle after Lindholm left Toksport for Hyundai’s improvement programme mid-season.

Of the 4 wins from seven rounds that earned him the title, it was the triumph in Greece that possibly outlined to Hyundai that Mikkelsen was worthy of a recall to accomplice full-timers Neuville and Tanak – who rejoins the squad following a yr at M-Sport. After dropping the WRC2 result in a puncture, the 34-year-old recovered from two extra tyre failures to rocket from twelfth in school to victory by defeating Gus Greensmith in a ultimate stage showdown.

Now again carrying a sky blue Hyundai polo shirt with a beaming smile on his face, Mikkelsen admits that at instances his life has revolved round rallying and returning to the highest of the WRC ladder. After turning into a father late final yr he says his ambitions remained, however have now been tempered.

The arrival of Mikkelsen's newborn gave him a fresh perspective on rallying

Photograph by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

The arrival of Mikkelsen’s new child gave him a contemporary perspective on rallying

“Earlier than after I was out after 2019 I used to be considering I have to be again [in the WRC],” he says. “However to be sincere, the final yr I used to be truly not so anxious anymore. Possibly it was one thing to do when our child [Max] arrived.

“There are different pleasures in life and also you don’t have to be within the WRC to have a pleasant life. I used to be extra relaxed about it and we had a terrific season. However I’m tremendous pleased to be again. It wasn’t going to be the top of the world if it didn’t occur. I feel earlier than, rally was every little thing, however now with the household that is additionally very good.”

Now with the chance to drive a Rally1 hybrid automobile for the primary time, Mikkelsen is now not a goal however has a brand new sight in his cross hairs as he goals to assist Hyundai to a primary producers’ title since 2020. It’s an goal that begins with arguably one of many WRC’s most tough occasions, Monte Carlo, now in his position as tarmac specialist. It is a powerful process for a Rally1 debut.

“I wish to drive the automobile as a lot as a I can,” he says. “The plan earlier than Monte is but to be mentioned, however I’m positive we’ll discover a good plan. The factor that’s good about beginning with Monte is you don’t have to be 100% with the automobile there to ship a superb end result, as a result of there are such a lot of different elements. I’m pleased I’m beginning at Monte, despite the fact that it is rather tough.”

Now the aim to return to the WRC has been achieved, it’s now case of staying there, as Mikkelsen hopes this second likelihood will result in a full-time works drive.

“I hope I could be up there preventing with the most effective guys, that’s the plan and assist the staff,” he provides. “If there are some conditions the place I may help Ott and Thierry then excellent, so that’s what I anticipate from myself. For me, it’s a one-year contract, however I hope if I ship properly there could possibly be extra.”

What can Mikkelsen produce on his top flight return?

Photograph by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

What can Mikkelsen produce on his high flight return?

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