Andreas Mikkelsen claims breakthrough IRC victory in Scotland
Andreas Mikkelsen finally clinched his first Intercontinental Rally Challenge win in Scotland, having protected his lead through the final stages at Scone Palace
The Norwegian had narrowly missed out on wins in the prevous two IRC rounds - crashing with victory in sight in Hungary, then being pipped by Thierry Neuville in a final stage showdown in Sanremo.
But in Scotland he drove flawlessly, battling with Guy Wilks early on, before emerging with a commanding lead when the Peugeot driver went off on Saturday morning.
A puncture today saw Mikkelsen's once 50-second cushion reduced to 28s over a charging Juho Hanninen (Skoda), but he responded in style by winning the first stage after midday service and then cruising home to triumph by a comfortable 26.4s.
The result was also the first win for the Skoda UK IRC programme since its debut victory with Wilks on this event in 2009, when it was handed first place following on-the-road winner Kris Meeke's disqualification.
Hanninen was off the pace for much of Saturday before set-up changes restored his confidence and he flew from sixth to second.
Bryan Bouffier took third, surviving final-afternoon brake problems in his PH Peugeot.
Ireland's Craig Breen drove a superb rally to fourth in his Ford, coping with various mechanical dramas today to resist championship leader Jan Kopecky.
The Skoda man now has a six point series lead over team-mate Hanninen, with six drivers still in title contention heading for the double-points finale in Cyprus next month.
Kopecky was off the pace in Scotland, and only got as high as fifth thanks to other drivers' problems.
Thierry Neuville ran as high as second for Kronos Peugeot, before two major errors dropped him to eighth. He fought back to sixth, passing Toni Gardemeister (TGS Skoda) on the penultimate test.
Neuville's team-mate Wilks got back up from 23rd to 10th after his Saturday error, only for his Peugeot to stop on the very last stage.
Alastair Fisher recovered from his Ford dropping onto two-wheel drive to finish as highest Briton in eighth. British and Scottish champion David Bogie spent the rally battling for top Production car honours with the highly-rated Jarkko Nikara, until both crashed today.
Also dropping out while on course for a good result was Patrik Sandell, who held fifth for Skoda Sweden until sustaining terminal damage to his Fabia this morning.
Proton looked like it might be on for its best IRC showing of a very tough year when P-G Andersson fought for a podium spot on day one. But he received several minutes of penalties when his car refused to start during a Saturday regroup, and then retired this morning. His team-mate Alister McRae was in the points when damage caused him to lose oil pressure and stop yesterday.
Leading finishers after SS15:Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Andreas Mikkelsen Skoda UK 1h55m17.2s 2. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 26.4s 3. Bryan Bouffier PH/Peugeot France + 1m35.3s 4. Craig Breen Kel-Tech Ford + 2m05.1s 5. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 2m11.7s 6. Thierry Neuville Kronos/Peugeot Belux + 3m10.4s 7. Toni Gardemeister TGS Skoda + 3m11.5s 8. Alastair Fisher M-Sport Ford + 4m59.9s 9. Toshi Arai Arai Subaru + 8m17.6s 10. Matthias Kahle Skoda Deutschland + 9m36.1s Major retirements: Guy Wilks Kronos/Peugeot UK SS15 Jarkko Nikara Mitsubishi (private) SS13 P-G Andersson Proton SS11 Patrik Sandell Skoda Sweden SS10 David Bogie Mitsubishi (private) SS10 Alister McRae Proton SS5
The fifth Intercontinental Rally Challenge was the best yet, and it was Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen who emerged as champion from a tense five-way shootout at the season finale. Matt Beer reviews the season