Mikkelsen takes Azores Rallye in final day fight


ERC leader Andreas Mikkelsen was mighty when it mattered most with a charging comeback victory on the 55th Azores Rallye to become the fifth different winner on as many FIA European Rally Championship rounds in 2021.

Driving a Toksport WRT-run Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo alongside co-driver Elliott Edmondson, MICHELIN-equipped Mikkelsen was in fifth place after two stages but gradually fought back into contention and started Saturday’s closing leg 4.0s behind Team MRF Tyres’ new recruit Dani Sordo (Hyundai i20 R5).

He moved in front by 1.9s after back-to-back stage wins this morning but had no answer to Sordo on the first of two runs through the iconic Sete Cidades volcano stage. Sordo’s stage best put him 0.1s behind ahead of the Grupo Marques superspecial. When the Spanish ace went quickest on the 4.10-kilometre test, the lead was his heading to midday service in Ponta Delgada.

But with his supply of new tyres depleted, Sordo faced a tall order to stay in front during this afternoon’s three stages with a trio of fastest stage times from Mikkelsen ensuring the Norwegian’s first ERC win of the season by 14.8s. It was also a maiden European championship event triumph for British co-driver Elliott Edmondson. The result gives Mikkelsen a 34-point lead after five rounds.

“We had a good gap to Dani so I tried to be clever [on the final stage],” said Mikkelsen. “We made the difference in the last two stages so I could ease off a little bit in [Sete Cidades]. We played it clever and big thank you to the team. Elliott did a great job, I am also happy with myself. It was really great competition and it was fun to fight with Dani. It was a really nice weekend and we really enjoyed it.”

Efrén Llarena, the best-placed ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory member, snatched third place from home hero Ricardo Moura when the 10-time Azorean champion rolled and knocked his left-rear tyre off its rim on the final stage with the last spot on the podium in his grasp. “I made a stupid mistake in a very tight corner, I clipped the inside and that’s how it is,” said a dejected Moura, who had led for the first five stages on the back of an impressive drive in the treacherous conditions that blighted Friday’s early action.

Behind Moura, ORLEN Team’s Miko Marczyk finished fifth to score more ERC points with Umberto Scandola claiming his best result of the season so far in sixth for Hyundai Rally Team Italia. Marczyk is third in the championship, seven points behind new second-placed driver Llarena.

Having claimed top Azorean championship points on Friday, Luís Rego finished his home round of the ERC in seventh, one place ahead of newcomer Benito Guerra, who flew from Mexico to make his ERC debut. Azorean championship leader Rafael Botelho and ERC2 winner Javier Pardo rounded out the top 10 in ninth and P10 respectively. The points-paying top 15 was completed by Luis Vilariño, Victor Cartier, Bruno Amaral, Dmitry Feofanov and Joan Vinyes, who demoted ERC3 winner Jean-Baptiste Franceschi on the final stage.

A double puncture on SS7 meant reigning ERC champion Alexey Lukyanuk would go no further than Saturday’s first test following a challenging event for the Saintéloc Junior Team Citroën driver. “We had two slow punctures,” he said. “We felt one in the middle so we decided to change it. At the moment the mood was completely down because it was obvious that we could not fight for any points today so we didn’t push too much to make it fast. In the end of the stage I had a suspicious feeling we had another slow puncture on the rear and in the last corner it was obvious that we had two. The plan was to go fast and try to be as fast as possible, that’s why we took only one spare.”

Norbert Herczig’s bid for more ERC success in the Azores quickly unravelled when he went off the road in the treacherous conditions on Friday’s first stage and got stuck. Restarting on day two, the four-time Hungarian champion was expected to battle for day points but was in trouble on SS7. “We made a mistake on a big curb and hit the rear right wheel with the concrete and unfortunately we damaged the suspension and we will not be able to continue the rally,” the Škoda Rally Team Hungaria driver said.

Erik Cais was fifth after eight stages but a heavy landing over a jump on the first visit to Sete Cidades damaged the cooler of his Yacco ACCR Team’s Ford Fiesta Rally2 (see below). Rachele Somaschini completed her first Azores Rallye in P19, one place behind Igor Widłak, who restarted on day two after rolling his Ford Fiesta Rally3.

Javier Pardo made it three wins from as many starts in the FIA ERC2 Championship with a dominant category triumph on the 55th Azores Rallye. Driving a Suzuki Swift R4lly S for Suzuki Motor Ibérica, the Spaniard was always in control after starting the final day with an advantage of 3m37.1s alongside co-driver Adrián Perez, despite reporting a problem with a rear damper at the end of SS11 that prompted him to reduce his pace for the final two stages. “It was a very good rally but this result is also for my co-driver and my team, they did a very good job.” Pardo said. Victor Cartier shrugged off a water leak, pop-off valve issue and contact with a rock on SS11 to bring home his self-built Toyota Yaris Rally2 Kit in second position. The Frenchman’s exploits will be documented on the ERC All Accessmagazine show, which is due to air on Eurosport 1 at 22h40 CET on Tuesday September 21. Dmitry Feofanov settled for third place after he reported making “some mistakes” on SS7. The Latvia-based driver explained: “We lost a lot of time and after that we decided to not push a lot.” After being slowed by a technical issued on day one, Joan Vinyes was back up to speed in his Suzuki Motor Ibérica entry and scored several stage wins on his way to fourth in class.

With chief rival Pep Bassas not starting leg two due to damage sustained when the Rallye Team Spain driver crashed his Peugeot 208 Rally4 on SS5, Jean-Baptiste Franceschi took no chances with a cautious drive to the finish in his Renault Clio Rally4. Co-driven by fellow Frenchman Anthony Gorguilo, Franceschi left morning service six minutes behind schedule while his Toksport WRT mechanics completed additional repairs and checks. “Like I said to my co-driver it’s more difficult to do stages in survival mode than having to push because of the big lead we had at the start of the day. But we had to survive and finish this day. It was a long day, but our only objective was to score the maximum points for the championship that we could. For sure it was not easy and we had to stay focused because this rally was very difficult for the first time and it’s easy to make a mistake or have problems. I am happy with this result and thank you to Renault Sport and my team, Toksport, for this opportunity.” Franceschi’s Toksport WRT team-mate Ola Jr Nore was a non-starter in his identical Clio Rally4.

Erik Cais was one of a number of top drivers to drop out of the 55th Azores Rallye fight on Saturday morning. The ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory member was in fifth place starting the Sete Cidades stage, but a heavy landing left his Yacco ACCR Team Ford Fiesta Rally2 damaged beyond immediate repair. “I know this place really good but this year the jump was much, much, much higher,” Cais said. “It was my mistake, I was too fast probably, even if I braked, I put fourth gear but probably too late so the car kicked to the front and we hit the front and that damaged the cooler. We were not be able to continue.” Cais, who came close to scoring his maiden ERC victory on Barum Czech Rally Zlín last month, added: “I want to really apologise to our team, our partners and for sure my family who are supporting us a lot in these hard moments. I need to come back stronger, this is bad for me.”

ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory members impress on 55th Azores Rallye
Efrén Llarena was the best-placed ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory member in third overall followed by Miko Marczyk and Rachele Somaschini, as Erik Cais retired from fifth overall with a broken cooler. The ERC-MICHELIN Talent Factory is an incentive scheme for young stars in Rally2 cars and is new for 2021.

P1 Racing Fuels Podium Challenge rewards drivers
The P1 Racing Fuels Podium Challenge continued on the 55th Azores Rallye in 2021. It rewards the top three finishers in ERC1 and ERC2 on all rounds of the championship with fuel vouchers that can be exchanged for P1 XR5 race fuel at subsequent events, helping competitors to further reduce the cost of competing. Across both categories, the winning drivers received 150 litres of fuel, while the second and third placed drivers received 100L and 50L respectively. More information: www.p1racingfuels.com

PROVISIONAL TOP 15 ERC POSITIONS (after 13 stages, 201.74 kilometres)
1 Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Elliott Edmondson (GBR) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo 2h32m31.5s
2 Dani Sordo (ESP)/Cándio Carrera (ESP) Hyundai i20 R5 +14.8s
3 Efrén Llarena (ESP)/Sara Fernándes (ESP) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +1m06.5s M
4 Ricardo Moura (PRT)/António Costa (PRT) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +1m09.7s
5 Miko Marczyk (POL/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +3m05.0s M
6 Umberto Scandola (ITA)/Danilo Fappani (ITA) Hyundai i20 R5 +4m03.0s
7 Luís Rego (PRT)/Jorge Henriques (PRT) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +5m19.7s
8 Benito Guerra (MEX)/Daniel Cué (ESP) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +6m50.3s
9 Rafael Botelho (PRT)/Rui Raimundo (PRT) Škoda Fabia R5 +9m25.9s
10 Javier Pardo (ESP)/Adrián Pérez (ESP) Suzuki Swift R4lly S +13m21.6s
11 Luis Vilariño (ESP)/José Murado (ESP) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo +15m45.1s
12 Victor Cartier (FRA)/Fabien Craen (FRA) Toyota Yaris Rally2 Kit +17m13.2s
13 Bruno Amaral (PRT)/Rui Medeiros (PRT) Ford Fiesta R5 +18m06.2s
14 Dmitry Feofanov (LVA)/Normunds Kokins (LVA) Suzuki Swift Rally2 Kit +20m30.3s
15 Joan Vinyes (AND)/Jordi Marcader (ESP) Suzuki Swift R4lly S +20m49.9s