Skoda UK Motorsport driver Andreas Mikkelsen is aiming for a podium finish on Rally Azores, which gets underway tomorrow (Thursday).

The rally takes place on the volcanic mid-Atlantic island of Sao Miguel, and despite being the sixth event of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge season, it is the first gravel rally of the year.

With gravel being Mikkelsen's preferred surface he is confident of a first podium finish of the season, and his first in the IRC with Skoda.

“I really enjoy rallying in the Azores because the stages are really nice, especially the volcano stage Sete Cidades, which is a beautiful stage with big drops,” he said. “The rest of the rally has beautiful landscape too, very green, nice and warm and really challenging for a driver, so I'm looking forward to it.

“It will be interesting to see the level of the drivers on gravel this year after five rallies on asphalt. I feel very comfortable on asphalt, but I always consider myself a little bit more of a gravel driver, so this rally certainly shouldn't put me at a disadvantage. For sure we want to be on the podium at the finish – and that's the aim in the Azores.”

Andreas and co-driver Ola Floene will be one of only eight crews in Super 2000 machinery on the rally. Some of his main competition will come from Skoda Motorsport factory drivers Juho Hanninen and Jan Kopecky, as well as Skoda Sweden entry Patrik Sandell, who, like Mikkelsen, is on his favoured surface.

Bruno Magalhaes will hope to retain the crown he won last year with Peugeot Sport Portugal, while Bryan Bouffier and Guy Wilks will also contend for honours in their Peugeots. Julien Maurin completes the S2000 pack in his Fiesta.

The first leg on Thursday afternoon/evening is made up of three stages, one of which is a superspecial. Friday’s second leg sees nine stages, with five during leg three on Saturday.