To keep his hopes alive for a second consecutive WRC2 drivers' championship, Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen (Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo) finished second in the WRC2 category at the Ypres Rally. Skoda teams swept the WRC2 Junior and WRC2 Masters divisions in round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Andreas Mikkelsen, leader of the WRC2 class, visited Ypres, a beautiful city in western Belgium. The Norwegian Skoda driver-focused mostly on Yohan Rossel because his two closest rivals, Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL) and Emil Lindholm (FIN), elected not to start. The Frenchman was ranked fourth in WRC2, heading into the ninth of the rally's 13 stages. To win the championship, Mikkelsen planned to finish at least one place higher than his primary challenger in the subsequent two rallies.
Wet weather and sharp cornering made for a challenging first portion of the Belgian World Championship race, with gravel and mud fouling the racing line in many spots. Many groups quickly gave up and sank their hopes in one of the numerous ditches lined by the tight, high-speed asphalt stages.
A three-way struggle between the French crews of Stephane Lefebvre/Andy Malfoy, Yohan Rossel/Valentin Sarreaud, and the Norwegian duo of Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen raged throughout the early stages of the WRC2 category. It was down to a fight for the first position between Lefebvre and Mikkelsen by Saturday afternoon. The current WRC2 champion could have pushed Lefebvre even harder. The Frenchman may be a consistent contender in the Belgian championship, but his efforts to win the WRC2 crown are pointless. To avoid any potential problems, Mikkelsen opted for caution. "The racetrack is filthy. I would have to take a significant chance for this to work. Furthermore, Stephane is more familiar with these unique phases than I am. The prospect of winning the championship would be lost if I retired."
After three stages, Mikkelsen finished second to Lefebvre and first to Rossel in the championship race. The Norwegian SKODA driver also took first place in the so-called "Power Stage," earning him an additional three points toward the overall championship. As a result, Mikkelsen's lead over Rossel increased from 16 to 20 points, with only one WRC2 event left in which he can earn points."I wanted to get as many points as possible here and in Greece," Mikkelsen told the Belgians after the Ypres Rally. Despite the initial failure of this strategy, the current WRC2 champion kept his optimism. "To finish in second place is not a terrible accomplishment. I struggled to keep up with Stephane's rapid pace. The rally car he drove in was outstanding. "
Two Skoda crews finished in the top three in the WRC2 Junior class, including drivers under 30. Chris Ingram and Craig Drew, two Brits racing for the German squad Toksport WRT, took first place and fourth place in the WRC2 standings. Ingram, the 2019 European Rally Champion, performed a remarkable feat: he overcame a 10.6-second deficit to eventual winner Gregoire Munster throughout Sunday's final four special stages to win by 8.1 seconds. Sebastien Bedoret, a hero on home soil, and his French co-driver François Gilbert, both members of the Skoda Motorsport customer team SXM Competition, placed third in the WRC2 Juniors. Ingram took over first place in the WRC2 Junior's standings from his Finnish teammate Emil Lindholm, who was absent due to illness and won his second class of the season. After Belgium's Ypres Rally, there is a nine-point gap between the two Skoda drivers.
However, at the opposite end of the age spectrum, Skoda teams swept the podium in the WRC2 Masters category. Like Ingram, a former European Rally Champion, Armin Kremer was the fastest driver in the 50-and-over class. The German was sitting in a Baumschlager Rally&Racing Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo, listening to Timo Gottschalk's announcements. Freddy Loix, a multiple-time champion of Belgium, and his co-driver Pieter Tsjoen, both members of the Skoda Motorsport customer team PTR Racing, finished in second place. Loix's second-place finish in the WRC2 Masters standings, behind Italy's Mauro Miele (Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo), was solidified with the 18 points awarded for this.
The World Cup has moved from the paved streets of Belgium to the rough gravel of Greece. The Acropolis Rally in Greece is up next (September 8-11).