A wake-up call for Meeke as Citroen bring in Mikkelsen
Kris Meeke's Citroen team have reacted to their troubled start to the 2017 World Rally Championship season by drafting in Andreas Mikkelsen for the next round in Sardinia.
The former European champion, left out in the cold when Volkswagen unexpectedly pulled the plug on their WRC programme late last year, will drive alongside Meeke and Craig Breen in Rally Italia starting on June 8. Young Frenchman Stephane Lefebvre has been stood down to make room for the Norwegian.
Citroen Racing boss Yves Matton insists Mikkelsen's appearance will be a one-off but it is being seen as a wake-up call to Meeke and the team after a series of setbacks. They have won just once in the first six rounds - Meeke's victory in Mexico - and currently languish at the bottom of the manufacturers' championship.
Matton said the Mikkelsen move had been prompted because "results have fallen a little short of the targets set at the start of the year".
Mikkelsen was scheduled to drive a Skoda Fabia in the second division WRC2 in Italy but will switch to the top category in one of the new C3 Citroens. However, he will only have a one-day test to get acclimatised to the car before Sardinia.
Matton added: "Given his limited preparation, Andreas won't have a specific target for the rally. We'll just be looking for him to drive at a pace that is consistent with how comfortable he feels in the car."
He will also give the team a fresh perspective on a car that, some say, is unpredictable and difficult to control in certain situations. Certainly Meeke and even the steadier Breen have been caught out several times although the Ulsterman also admits he has made mistakes.
He has been off the road in Monte Carlo, Sweden, Argentina and again last weekend in Portugal. Even Mexico almost ended in catastrophe when the C3 flew over a hedge and into a car park on the final stage.
Despite being one of the quickest drivers in every rally, and he was on course to win again in Corsica until engine failure sidelined the Citroen, errors have cost him and the team dearly.
Mikkelsen won the European title for Skoda in 2011 and '12 and famously suffered concussion when he crashed on the Lisburn spectator stage during the 2012 Circuit of Ireland but still went on to finish second.
He has long been a fan favourite in Ireland having been a regular visitor here as a teenager to contest Irish Tarmac Championship rounds.
A three-time WRC winner, Mikkelsen may just be the catalyst needed to get back on track.