Andreas Mikkelsen will return to frontline World Rally Championship (WRC) action with Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team at next month’s Rally Italia Sardegna in Italy.
He will drive a C3 at the Italian gravel fixture, his first competitive outing in a 2017 World Rally Car. The Norwegian will replace Stéphane Lefebvre, who will return at the following round in Poland.
Mikkelsen will have a day’s test before the rally and said he was delighted to join the French squad.
“It’s an open secret that I have been looking for a solution to keep competing in the top category of the WRC since the end of the 2016 season,” he said.
“I can’t wait to get my bearings in testing and then start working on preparing for the rally. I’ll no doubt be short of running time in the car at the start, but the main thing for me is to be back racing in the leading category in a strong team,” he added.
Rumors of a deal surfaced over the weekend at Vodafone Rally de Portugal, although it was only sealed after Sunday’s finish. Although Citroën has announced just one event, it is believed a longer-term agreement could be confirmed shortly.
Mikkelsen has been without a full-time drive since Volkswagen Motorsport’s decision to step back from the WRC last year. Although he finished third in the 2016 points and won the final round at Kennards Hire Rally Australia, he missed out on a topline seat for 2017.
He has kept match fit by driving a Skoda Fabia R5 in WRC 2. He won in Monte-Carlo and Corsica and was on course for a treble in Portugal before crashing out of the lead in the final Fafe Power Stage. He had been entered in the Fabia for Sardinia.
Speculation linked him with Toyota and Hyundai and last month he tested an i20 World Rally Car for the Korean manufacturer.
Mikkelsen’s arrival will strengthen a team that has disappointed this season. It trails at the foot of the manufacturers’ standings and although Kris Meeke won in Mexico, Craig Breen is best-placed in the drivers’ points in seventh.
Team principal Yves Matton acknowledged Mikkelsen would boost Citroën’s chances of a strong result.
“After the first six rounds of the season, it would appear the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT’s results have fallen a little short of the targets set at the start of the year,” he said. “Andreas has a fair amount of experience at this rally, which is not the case for us since the Abu Dhabi Total WRT didn’t compete in Sardinia last year”.
“Given his limited preparation, Andreas won’t have a specific target for the rally. We’ll be just looking for him to drive at a pace that is consistent with how comfortable he feels in the car,” Matton added.
Matton insisted the move to drop Lefebvre was not a scrapping of Citroën’s youth policy.
“This is not a sanction of any kind, nor does it call into question our investment in the young drivers. The decision is merely intended to maximise Citroën’s chances. Stéphane accepted that it was necessary to put the team first in this case,” he added.