Andreas Mikkelsen has sealed his first Intercontinental Rally Challenge victory on the RAC MSA Rally of Scotland, handing Skoda UK a win on home soil.
The Norwegian driver took a lead of 50 seconds into the final day, and although Skoda Motorsport driver Juho Hanninen cut the gap to less than 30 seconds through the opening loop of three stages, Mikkelsen remained in control through the final four stages. His final winning margin over the defending series champion Hanninen was 26.4 seconds.
Mikkelsen's win in Scotland comes after fighting for glory on both of the previous two events in Hungary and Sanremo.
“What a fantastic weekend,” he said at the end of the final stage. “We were so close to winning in Hungary and even closer in Sanremo, but we could not have found a better place to score our first IRC win on Skoda UK's home event. The feeling is just amazing and this result gives us something to really build on for our next rally in Cyprus.”
Hanninen had started the day in third place, just one second behind Peugeot France-backed Bryan Bouffier. After being passed by the Finn on the opening stage of the day, Bouffier settled for third place, dropping time with a brake problem on SS12 and receiving a ten second penalty for being late into SS13 as he fixed the issue.
Thierry Neuville fell from fourth to eighth when he spun into a ditch on SS10. Patrik Sandell was quickest on that stage and would have leapfrogged Craig Breen into fourth place, only to break his suspension just before the stage end, preventing him from continuing.
This allowed Ireland's Breen to take an impressive fourth place, resisting points leader Jan Kopecky despite an engine problem on SS11. Neuville won both of the rally-closing runs around the Scone Palace stage to steal sixth from Toni Gardemeister.
Jarkko Nikara had been running in a strong sixth in his Group N Mitsubishi, ahead of fellow Finn Gardemeister. He fell to eighth with a puncture on SS12 and then crashed out on the following test.
Alastair Fisher recovered from transmission problems on Saturday to finish eighth in his M-Sport-run Ford Fiesta. He benefited when British and Scottish champion David Bogie was forced to retire with suspension damage.
Guy Wilks had been fighting Mikkelsen for the victory when he went off the road on Saturday and lost six minutes. He had worked his way back up to ninth behind Fisher but broke a wheel on the very last stage. Toshi Arai moved up into ninth place in his R4-specification Subaru, with Skoda Deutschland's Matthias Kahle taking tenth.
Jason Pritchard finished 12th as the top Group N runner in his Subaru, while Estonia's Martin Kangur won the 2WD category in 14th overall.
Hanninen has moved to just six points behind teammate Kopecky in the points, but must wait to find out whether he will be entered at the season finale in Cyprus, where double points are on offer.
Top ten finishers after 15 stages:
|1||6||Andreas Mikkelsen||Skoda UK||Skoda Fabia S2000||1:55:17.2|
|2||5||Juho Hanninen||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda Fabia S2000||+26.4|
|3||1||Bryan Bouffier||Peugeot France||Peugeot 207 S2000||+1:35.3|
|4||17||Craig Breen||Keltech||Ford Fiesta S2000||+2:05.1|
|5||2||Jan Kopecky||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda Fabia S2000||+2:11.7|
|6||4||Thierry Neuville||Peugeot Belux||Peugeot 207 S2000||+3:10.4|
|7||12||Toni Gardemeister||TGS Worldwide||Skoda Fabia S2000||+3:11.5|
|8||19||Alastair Fisher||M-Sport||Ford Fiesta S2000||+4:59.9|
|9||10||Toshi Arai||Arai||Subaru Impreza R4||+8:17.6|
|10||21||Matthias Kahle||Skoda Deutschland||Skoda Fabia S2000||+9:36.1|
Drivers' standings after 10 of 11 rounds: