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Mikkelsen thrilled to return to Ireland as Intercontinental Rally Challenge makes debut on Circuit of Ireland

Andreas MikkelsenIntercontinental Rally Challenge series leader Andreas Mikkelsen is aiming to become only the second ever foreign winner of the Circuit of Ireland when he leads crews into the start of the event on Friday afternoon.

The organisers of the event are putting the finishing touches to what should be a sell-out spectator stage in Belfast's Titanic Quarter - and Mikkelsen and his Skoda UK Motorsport Fabia S2000 will be first into the test. Mikkelsen leads the IRC series by 18 points after just two rounds and is looking forward to his return to Irish rallying.

"I did rounds of the Irish Tarmac Championship in 2007, and the stages and the atmosphere were both fantastic, so I'm really looking forward to going back," said Mikkelsen.

"I've never rallied around Armagh, but I expect it will be typical Irish stages - fast, very bumpy, narrow lanes, with gravel in places and really slippery if it's wet. You can't find anything quite like an Irish road in any other rounds of the IRC, or anywhere else in the world. I think this year's Circuit of Ireland will be a good rally for us, as it will suit my driving style."

Mikkelsen will face tough competition on the 14-stage event, which runs into Friday evening and all through Saturday, from fellow factory Fabia drivers Jan Kopecky (who won the previous round in the Canaries) and Juho Hanninen. Beyond the Czech manufacturer's works cars, local stars Alastair Fisher (Ford Fiesta S2000), Craig Breen (Peugeot 207 S2000) and Robert Barrable (Skoda) are sure to be among the pacesetters.

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Mikkelsen takes early lead in Ireland
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