Opinion: Mikkelsen is the man who the WRC forgot

The Norwegian rally driver has had a choppy career, but he’s again proved his talent.

Andreas Mikkelsen has had a career bumpier than Ouninpohja and twistier than the Tour de Corse – and he’s still only 31.

The Norwegian started precociously with a Ford Focus WRC in his teens – perhaps the most lavishly funded beginning for a rally driver recently seen. And he became the youngest driver ever to score WRC points in 2008 – just before the world went into financial meltdown and he was left on foot.

Mikkelsen tried to build himself back up on national events but met with tragedy: the name Elise is still on his helmet today, a tribute to the 10-year-old girl who lost her life when he went off the road on Rally Larvik in Norway in 2009.

Then Mikkelsen signed for the Intercontinental Rally Challenge with Skoda UK. His first event was the Rally Monte-Carlo, but the Norwegian skated off the road shortly after the start of the first stage, earning himself the nickname One-Mile Mikkelsen.

Things got better, though: by the end of the season, he had clinched the title. When Skoda’s parent company, Volkswagen, entered the WRC, Mikkelsen was a shoo-in for the third car alongside Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. He finished third in the championship three times and took three wins – before the German giant suddenly withdrew after 2016.

Back on the sidelines, Mikkelsen was eventually picked up by Hyundai for a part-programme, but the partnership never really gelled, producing just four podiums in two years from 2018 to 2019. Things were fading away before he struck gold: Pirelli needed a test driver for the new generation of WRC tyres that will make their debut in 2021.

Mikkelsen did a good job and so was asked to drive on the Hungarian round of the European Rally Championship two weekends ago. It was his first rally in nearly a year, but he won it by more than a minute.

Fortunes change quickly in rallying, and although testing will take place in December, Mikkelsen is still the only driver with experience of all the new tyres heading into next season. He has also driven nearly all of the recent WRC cars out there. Pirelli proved his worth in testing and Hungary showed that he has no competitive rustiness. Even his film-star looks haven’t changed much.

Mikkelsen says that he’s working hard on a deal for the 2020 WRC finale at Monza in December – but surely there’s a place for him beyond then, too? With a blend of (relative) youth, experience, speed and insider knowledge, any new manufacturer or team should look no further than the man who the WRC forgot.

Anthony Peacock

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