Rally Azores (14-16 July) offers a unique challenge to drivers, as the first gravel event in the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) takes place on the volcanic island of São Miguel. It’s the type of long and challenging event that Andreas Mikkelsen enjoys, and he’ll be aiming for a good finish when he competes on the mid-Atlantic archipelago in his ŠKODA UK Motorsport Fabia S2000.
Even in rallying terms, the Azores is a spectacular venue. São Miguel, nicknamed ‘the Green Island’ is a picturesque island located 930 miles (1500kms) west of Portugal and 2400 miles (3900kms) east of North America, with a dramatic coastline, high mountains and an average daytime temperature of 24°C in the driest month of July. The stages are 95% gravel, with a stunning signature stage running around a volcanic crater.
There are also cattle on the island, as Andreas discovered last year when he came over a blind crest at almost 100mph and was met by a herd of cows crossing the road in front of him. He had to take to a ditch to avoid them, and it’s not something he wishes to repeat this year in his Fabia S2000.
Andreas is well respected for his skill on asphalt, yet the 22-year old FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy driver is a little more familiar with rallying on gravel. The challenging loose-surface stages of the Azores suit his driving style well, leaving him and co-driver Ola Fløene confident of scoring a good result.
As always on an IRC event, Andreas will be facing tough competition – not least from ŠKODA Motorsport drivers Juho Hänninen and Jan Kopecký and ŠKODA Sweden’s Patrik Sandell, all of whom also drive Fabia S2000s.
Andreas: “I really enjoy rallying in the Azores because the stages are really nice, especially the volcano stage Sete Cidades, which is a beautiful stage with big drops. The rest of the rally has beautiful landscape too, very green, nice and warm and really challenging for a driver, so I’m looking forward to it.
“It will be interesting to see the level of the drivers on gravel this year after five rallies on asphalt. I feel very comfortable on asphalt, but I always consider myself a little bit more of a gravel driver, so this rally certainly shouldn’t put me at a disadvantage. For sure we want to be on the podium at the finish – and that’s the aim in the Azores.”
Based in Ponta Delgada, this year’s Sata Rallye Açores (to give it its correct Portuguese title) contains three legs and 17 stages totaling 129.63 mile (208.63kms). The event starts with a shakedown on Thursday 14 July (09.00-13.00) before the official start at 16.00. Three stages follow, one of which is the Grupo Marques super special, before the finish at 19.35.
Leg 2 begins at 09.30 the following day and contains nine stages totaling 60.26 miles (96.99kms) before the finish at 18.50.
The third and final leg takes place on Saturday 16 July. Starting at 09.00, it contains five stages totaling 54.2 miles (87.24kms), including the Tronqueira test which, at 13.63 miles (21.94kms), is the longest of the event and is attempted once in the morning and repeated as the final stage in the afternoon. The finish ceremony will be in Ponta Delgada at 18.55.
Eurosport will broadcast edited highlights of the event, so please check TV listings for details.