Mikkelsen makes surprise switch for Rally Australia defence
NORWEGIAN star Andreas Mikkelsen has made a surprise switch to the official Hyundai team to defend his Kennards Hire Rally Australia title at the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship finale.
Mikkelsen, 28, has signed with Hyundai to contest the remaining rounds of the season in Spain, Great Britain and Australia.
Although Mikkelsen had tested the Hyundai i20 Coupe in Portugal last April, the move to the Korean team was a surprise as he has recently driven in three events for Citroën, finishing second in Rally Germany only last month.
His third career victory was recorded in a Volkswagen at Kennards Hire Rally Australia last year. A win that was regarded as his finest.
He beat teammate and four-time world champion Sébastien Ogier in a straight-out fight - yet the performance was not enough to earn a new permanent seat at the elite level when Volkswagen quit the WRC at the end of 2016.
"Until now it hadn't been known if Andreas Mikkelsen would be back to defend his title this year," Rally Australia event chairman Ben Rainsford said.
"Entries for Rally Australia open next week and it's fantastic for fans to know already that his name will be on the list alongside the rest of the world's greatest rally drivers including Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala, Thierry Neuville and others.
"The Hyundai has been very fast all season and it will be fascinating to see what Andreas can do with it on the Coffs Coast stages, where he's obviously very comfortable."
Mikkelsen will take the seat of Kiwi Hayden Paddon to partner Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo at next month's Rally RACC Catalunya-Rally de España.
Hyundai said its line-up for Dayinsure Wales Rally GB and Kennards Hire Rally Australia would differ from Spain.
However, it's expected Paddon will return for Australia, which is virtually a home event for the South Islander and where he usually is followed by more than 100 visiting countrymen.
Team principal Michel Nandan said the decision to make changes was necessary to help rekindle Hyundai's manufacturers' title hopes.
Hyundai trails M-Sport World Rally Team by 64 points after poor performances at the most recent rounds in Finland and Germany.
"Discussions with Andreas have been ongoing since he was out of a drive, but we had nothing to offer him as our line-up was fixed. However, with us losing ground, we decided to re-evaluate the situation," Nandan said.
Mikkelsen had been employed at Citroën to fill a similar role to that he'll undertake at Hyundai, helping the French team stay in contention while it tried to sort out its troublesome C3 car and after a string of crashes by lead driver Kris Meeke.
"My aim is to do all I can to help the team in the manufacturers' championship," the driver said.
"Anders (co-driver Jaeger) and I are ready for this and we hope it will be the start of something more long-term."