Learning to drive a rally carIntercontinental Rally Championship champion Andreas Mikkelsen teaches us a thing or two about driving.
-We love our long-term Skoda Fabia. It's good-looking, if a little like Snoopy, commodious, spacious, good fun to drive, has an excellent gear shift, and well, all-around just generally brilliant. But I'm about to meet a man who has a slightly quicker Fabia, and who loves his a little more than we love ours. His name is Andreas Mikkelsen. He's 23, he's from Norway. He also happens to be the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Championship champion. He's one of those guys who's, you know, tall, handsome, athletic, really talented, everything. You know, just an average Joe. Busted. Andreas sits at a course for me to do. It's pretty technical in places, and should, I hope, test both me and the car he's laid on for me to drive-- his car. His rally car. I'm about to drive a rally car on a course set up by an Intercontinental Rally champion. I'm a very, very, very lucky boy. Right. Andreas, you are 23, you are the Intercontinental Rally Championship champion, you've just broken the record for the longest lead of any IRC race ever-- 5 minutes, 33.8 something? -Yeah. -Something crazy like that. Tell us a bit about your background. You started in skiing, yeah? -Yeah. When I was around three years old, I started my career in skiing. And I continued skiing until I was 16. -Yeah. -I'm doing really well. I was doing the Junior Championship-- World Championship. And I got three [unk], and then, I hurt my knees. I can't ski anymore. At that time, it was really, really sad. -Yeah. -And-- but it only got me into rallying. -Right. -Looking back at it now, I'm so glad I got my injury, -So, how young were you when you started rallying? 16, 17? -I was 16. -Right. -Uh-huh. -And then, from there? -From there, I moved to the UK when I turned 17-- -Right. -to get my driving license. -Actually. -So I can start one year-- one year earlier than anyone else in Norway. So-- and then, everything has just progressed since there. It's been a-- it's been a huge learning curve. -Yeah. So, tell him-- tell me about the Fabia. I mean, what's it like compared to the, say, ours? -Well, it's completely different car than an on-the-road car. It's built from the red nose chassis, the Skoda Fabia. Obviously, it's built up from scratch as a-- as a proper rally car. -Uh-huh, -In which you can see around to-- today, we-- we're on gravel place on tarmac. So, we'll-- -Absolutely. -we'll manage the slide a little bit. -Right. Okay. Now, you've laid out a bit of a course for us. Have you gone easy on me? Remember, I'm a beginner. I'm gonna have a go in this. But is-- is it gonna be like beginner-friendly, or am I-- are you gonna test me? -We'll definitely gonna test you. That's the main thing. We have some fast sections-- -Yeah. -We have also some slow sections. We have use the hand brake a bit. -Nice. -Yeah. So, it's a little bit Mickey Mouse and some good corners where you can build up some speed, as well. So, I'm sure you will enjoy. -Spectacular. Well, should we jump in our Fabia? -Yeah. -And have a bit of a sizing up, see where the crack is, and then, well, if you'd show me the ropes in this. -Yes. -And then, I'll have a go. -Yeah. Cross our fingers. -First, Andreas showed me the course in our car. It seems a little tight, but in good form. Then, he showed me what he could really do. I have no idea our long [unk] could go quite like that until, of course, I had a go. Lots of-- just here. Oh, hello. I've never driven out our Fabia or [unk] before, but good God, was it fun. Then now, he showed me the course in his Fabia. -Three, two, one, go. -It was much, much quicker. The hand brake was rather thick to do. The man's got talent. that's for sure. Then, what amazed me was just how easy he made it look. The driving for him was secondary to everything else, much like breathing is for most people. It just happens. It was incredible to watch. He made the thing dance, for goodness sake. And then, it was my go. Andreas showed me around his car what to press, how the sequential gear box work, and told me to, well, nail it. He, sensibly, though, didn't jump in with me. You know, just in case. The Fabia S2000 has to adhere to certain rules to be allowed to enter the IRC. It has to be based on a car that sold more than 2,500 units, it must be powered by a 2-liter naturally-aspirated engine. It can have four-wheel drive, and a 6-speed sequential gear box, though it can keep the original car's box if it wants to. It kicks out somewhere between 285 and 290 brake horsepower. It is, suffice to say, rather rapid. However, the Fabia S2000 is a tricky little thing. You can't drive it like a normal car. You'd end up kangarooing like a learner and like I did on the first wrap. Because the clutch has such little give, you're stall lots. You have to nail the throttle, you have to drive it like you stole it, you have to have lots and lots and lots of fun. It's a tool to go very, very fast, and you don't [unk] cut or hammer, do you? You just hit stuff with it. You don't nurse a rally car, you thrash the neckers of it. That said, Andreas kept telling me to rev it harder and harder. You know what? I like Andreas. He's my kind of guy. -Go. Rally car. Yeah. -It was surprisingly easy to get it sideways and even easier to recover it. In a road car, you need to be giving it some serious speed. And nine times out of ten, you end up looking very, very stupid, indeed. Here, you simply make sure you're in a right gear, yank the bar, and power through. As I had more laps at the course, I may have forgotten the rules a little bit, but I was having far too much fun to worry about any of that. Interestingly, while I was still storming like a tripper, I was getting more and more confident, sliding more, pushing more, making more noise. It was brilliant. I think while I was out there, I was bitten by some kind of bug. It was magical to be able to play in such a machine. Everything you think you know about driving is no longer relevant. You need to be rough with it, yet oddly smooth at the same time. You can make it dance with ease, yet to get to it perfectly, you need years of practice and a-- and a few screws [unk]. Right. So, I've just driven that for a few more laps than I should, and I may haven't gotten the course entirely right-- sorry about that. I kind of-- but I was having too much fun 'cause it was just absolutely brilliant. It slides so easily and it makes so much noise, and it turns so readily. It's just brilliant. But I have to ask, from the professional rally driver, the Intercontinental Rally Championship champion-- I love saying that-- how'd I do? -No. You have somewhere to improve. But that's normal. Obviously, getting at the start line isn't that easy-- -No. -with this type of clutch. -The clutch is just so-- -Yeah. -Like-- -It's so sensitive. -Yeah. -So, even I struggled with that going out of service and our service. So, don't worry about-- too much about that. -Forgive me for being a little bit happy about that. -No. But you managed to get the-- what is the-- the hand brake turns pretty good. -Yeah. -It looks like-- -Yank. -you enjoyed the-- -Yes. -the hand brake. So, that was good. Obviously, when you got your revs up-- -Yeah. -a little bit more throughout than the session, it was-- it's starting to look much, much better. So, still, there's things to improve here and there. But overall, I-- you improved quite a lot than most small laps [unk] did. -Yes. -So, no. -Thank you very much. -Very good. Very good. Absolutely. -That's awesome. -Okay. -And now, I think we're gonna put you in that to go nuts around there. And I think, you're gonna use me as a cone. -Yeah. The human cone. -Yup. I'm done with that. Cone. Let's get cracking. I may never be a rally driver, but the brief time I had with the Fabia was incredible. Best day ever? Maybe. Maybe.