S-WRC wrap: Rally win for Mikkelsen but Pons takes the title
Andreas Mikkelsen claimed his debut victory in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship but it was Xevi Pons who landed the inaugural title with second place on Wales Rally GB today as archrival Jari Ketomaa crashed out on Sunday's opening stage.
Driving a Skoda Fabia S2000, Mikkelsen led from Thursday night's opening special stage in Cardiff Bay and never looked truly threatened. "It's a great result and when Ketomaa went out the pressure came off and I was able to take it easy," said the 21-year-old from Norway.
Behind, Pons adopted a low-risk strategy throughout the event to take the points he needed to secure the S-WRC title spoils in his Nupel Global Racing Ford Fiesta S2000.
"It wasn't easy and I had to be careful on each stage even though I didn't have to push," said Pons, who was eventually classified in third place behind Irishman Craig Breen. "This title is very important for my sponsors and also for me and my team. I am very happy to win."
Pons, from Spain, began the season with a brace of victories and has led the drivers' standings throughout.
"It has been a perfect season for us," Pons continued. "This championship has been very important for the WRC and there have been a lot of good drivers and a lot of good battles. It has not been easy."
Ketomaa's bid to win the S-WRC title ended when he rolled into retirement on Sunday's opening stage. The Finn needed to win the event in order to take the championship honours from Pons and was on a charge when he went off the road in his Fiesta.
Breen moved into second on the penultimate stage in his Fiesta after an impressive showing by the young Irish driver, who was eligible for S-WRC points for the first time. "This is just a dream, a complete dream," said Breen. "Every [pace] note was pin point perfect and I'm really pleased."
Patrik Sandell's recovery from his driveshaft failure on Friday afternoon brought him to within 5.2 seconds of snatching third place from Pons. Although he had dropped out of contention for the drivers' title, Breen's second place and the points Sandell accrued for fourth was enough to hand his Raimund Baumschlager-run Red Bull Rally Team the WRC Cup for S2000 Teams.
"I pushed as hard as I could and I'm really pleased for the Red Bull team," said Sandell, who finishes second in the final table, ahead of Czech Martin Prokop, who was competing in Wales having contested his seven permitted events. Ketomaa was classified fourth.
Michal Kosciuszko was the last of five finishers in the S-WRC division, despite his Fabia suffering from an intermittent power problem, caused by a broken injection coil, on the final morning.
"The engine was cutting so it was not really perfect," said the Polish driver. "We switched to the emergency fuel pump during the [first] stage but it didn't help."
P-WRC wrap: Champion Araujo completes the double
When you don't finish lower than third on every round of the Production Car World Rally Championship, it's going to be a tough job for anybody to beat you - and that was the position Armindo Araujo was in after collecting back-to-back titles in Wales today.
Mitsubishi driver Araujo has put together a stunning selection of results, including three wins, two second places and a third place in this year's P-WRC. And when Patrik Flodin smashed a wheel on his Subaru Impreza on the second day in Wales, the title was all-but Araujo's. Twenty-four hours later and the deal was done.
And while the outright class victory in Wales belonged to Mitsubishi driver Ott Tanak, it was a jubilant Araujo who lifted the silverware in Cardiff for the second time.
"I am so happy again!" said the Portuguese. "It's just incredible to have won the title again. It's been a very good year for me and, of course, it's an amazing feeling to win. This was not an easy rally at all, it was difficult all of the time because we didn't know about the grip and I wasn't feeling so comfortable with the road conditions early on.
"Our only problem was with the turbo at the end of the first day, after that it's been very good."
Araujo admitted he had been concerned about Flodin's pace through the early part of the rally. "It was difficult watching him set this pace," said Araujo. "I had to drive my own rally and concentrate on the plan I had made. All of the time I said the rally was for Flodin, but I had to concentrate on the championship. I have done that now."
Flodin, who had also scored three wins this season, returned under Superally regulations today and the fifth place he took is good enough for him to maintain the runners-up spot in the championship.
Kiwi Hayden Paddon was third in the standings after a tricky final round for the Pirelli Star Driver. His hopes of signing off his year in the FIA's young driver development scheme were dashed when he suffered suspension failure on the opening day.
Araujo admitted he hoped his second world title would be enough to open more doors for him next season. "The main thing I want is to stay in the world championship," he said.
"That's the most important for me. If it is going to be in a World Rally Car, S2000 or Production Car, I don't know. The main thing is that we are here. From the sporting side I have to some doors open, but I have to wait and see what is possible with my sponsors. I want to check everything that can happen from now."