What’s your favourite piece of road? Is it fast, twisty, narrow or wide? Every enthusiast has an answer, but few can top a rally driver’s answers for quality or variety. Mud, snow or tar, they’ve seen it all. Fast, technical, tree-lined or teetering on a precipice, they’ve done it. Always against the clock and in the heat of competition, they tackle the world’s toughest roads in the world’s most extreme road cars.
Skoda’s double IRC champion, Andreas Mikkelsen, may only be 23, but he has six years of top-flight competition behind him. He’s competed across the globe in a variety of cars, and his answer to the question tells you a lot about what motivates him. There are common themes in many of his answers – notably that the bigger and faster the challenge, the happier he is – but it’s just as clear that to be a successful rally driver you need to be able to deliver, whatever the conditions. Here, then, are Mikkelsen’s 10 favourite challenges in the world…
Vargåsen - Rally Sweden
“This stage has everything: blind crests, tight, technical sections and really fast bits. But everyone knows it for the jump known as Colin’s Crest, named in honour of 1995 world champion Colin McRae. What makes it so special is that it’s not just a flat-out leap; you need to have super-accurate pacenotes, your co-driver needs to call it perfectly and you need to have a very specific line. That and super-big balls. The fastest cars jumped more than 30 metres over the crest last year. That’s an awful long way to be in the air with no control when you are going at high speed — especially if you hit the jump off line.”
Sete Cidades - Rallye Azores
“This is known as the ‘volcano stage’ because of the location, which is pretty spectacular when you’re standing still, let alone going flat out in a rally car. There’s a long section that runs along the top of a ridge, with massive drops on each side. The roads on this rally are generally very narrow, but in some parts they really open up. That requires a very technical style of driving, and I love that. There are also sections of the event where the stages have both gravel and tarmac sections. Most drivers hate that, as the car feels so loose on the tarmac on gravel settings, but I love the challenge.”
Ouninpohja - Rally Finland
“This is one of the most famous stages in the World Rally Championship. At 21 miles, it is a really long challenge. You are flat out on gravel, moving the car around at high speed over blind crests and jumps that just keep coming at you. It is one of those stages that you will never drive perfectly, because there’s so much to take in. Experience helps, but there is too much to learn in one lifetime. The speeds are also so high that you can never take risks; if you don’t respect the stage, it will bite you.”
Halfway - Wales Rally GB
“I actually had a pretty big crash here in 2007. The car went over five or six times after I slid offline and clipped a bank. It wasn’t so bad; generally, the crashes that don’t end with a sudden stop aren’t so big. But what I love about this stage is what also caught me out: they are fast, flowing roads, and if you miss the line then you must accept you will lose a lot of time or risk going off. The crests are frequent and they often tighten, so you must drive with confidence and listen to your co-driver, not your eyes.”
Glen Roy - Rally Isle of Man
“People say rally drivers are mad, but after rallying on the Isle of Man I know that I am completely sane compared to the bikers. This is what real rallying is about: tight, twisty stages, open, fast moorland, hairpins, crests, blind corners and everything else in between. Picking one great stage is not easy — they are all great — but Glen Roy is one of the ones that sticks in my mind, not least because I still hold the fastest time ever over it. At just over 4.5 miles in length, it’s short, but it is also fun. This is such a special rally; it has a unique atmosphere, and one day I’ll find a way to get back there.”
Moll’s Gap - Circuit of Ireland
“Rallying is a huge sport in Ireland, and the Moll’s Gap stage is perhaps the most famous of all. It is so fast, and it cuts through open scenery so everyone gets fantastic views — not just the spectators, but also the competitors. In 2007 I had a great run and took the record for the fastest time. Then the next car took the record off me. I’d conquered one of the best roads in one of the toughest countries for rallying for all of two minutes!”
Anadiou - Cyprus Rally
“This isn’t the best stage or even best rally in the world, but it is home to some of my most intense emotions. After a difficult start to my 2011 season when I crashed 400 metres into my first event with the Skoda team, we all worked hard to pull it together. And after all that hard work, here I was at the last stage of the season with the title in my grasp. I had a big lead, so I just needed to finish. But how do you concentrate in those situations when there’s no pressure to drive fast? It really is hard to drive at six-tenths when you spend your life going flat out, and my solution is to drive more sideways for the spectators. There is less chance of crashing but it still requires your total concentration. So that’s what I did. And at the end, total joy. To win that title was amazing — and to be able to go back and defend my title again this year was every bit as special.”
Drummond Hill - Rally of Scotland
“I took my first IRC win on Rally of Scotland, and this was the stage that really stood out for me on this incredible event. Again, it’s really fast, full of crests and a lot of the time you are driving blind, putting your absolute trust in the pacenotes. When we recce a stage we usually video it, and I’ll watch it back between two and six times. This one was definitely one I watched six times, and even then I didn’t learn it because it is so complex. In the dry it really is beautiful: fast, flowing and rewarding. Trouble is, it rains a lot in Scotland.”
Ronde - Rallye Sanremo
“This is one of the longest stages in rallying at more than 27 miles; the last time I was there, the fastest car took just under half an hour to complete the stage. I wore a heart rate monitor for the whole run, and if I tell you I averaged 155 beats per minute for the duration then you’ll get an idea of how intense it is. I peaked at 187 beats per minute. That’s pretty high considering I’m in a car strapped in a seat and just moving my arms and ankles about. Even the world’s best drivers have to learn to concentrate on going that fast for that long. It comes with experience.”
Smaadola - Numedal Rally, Norway
“This stage is a classic Norwegian snow challenge. It is up in the mountains, and is run uphill in the morning and then downhill to close the event. And let me tell you it is fast! And so beautiful. I actually co-drove through this stage once, to learn about how a rally works. I am happy to admit now that I am the worst passenger ever, and I could never be a co-driver. But on that downhill run it is like driving through a picture at 100mph.”

Source: AutoCar