28 Jul 08
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila are gearing up for their home rally in Finland this week - and both crews have their sights set on winning it.
Ford is the only manufacturer to be contesting this year’s WRC with an all Finnish line up, which means there’s a lot of individual pride at stake for its drivers as well as the usual desire to do the best job for the team.
After eight rounds of the 2008 series Ford leads the manufacturers’ championship by nine points. Its lead driver, Mikko Hirvonen leads the drivers’ championship by three points from the man in second place, Sebastien Loeb.
This will be the seventh appearance in Finland for Hirvonen, who lives in the rally’s host town of Jyvaskyla and will celebrate his 28th birthday on Thursday - the day the rally starts. Last year's second place is his best result. "I've stood beside these stages since I was a kid watching heroes like Markku Alen and Ari Vatanen driving. My family and friends will all be out watching and it would be a fantastic feeling to stand on the top step of the podium in front of them on the Sunday afternoon," said Hirvonen.
"But there are other drivers who are capable of preventing me from doing that. There is a little more pressure on me to win in Finland than on other rallies but it's nothing I can't cope with. I can't wait because it's the first time that I will start my home rally leading the championship. This rally is all about bravery, trust in the pace notes and accuracy. There is simply no room for mistakes," he added.
Latvala, 23, is just as eager for the action to start. "It would be special to win on home ground in Finland,” he said. “Victory here is more highly regarded than in some other world rallies. It requires solid experience of the rally and I need to be able to drive flat out from start to finish without making mistakes. Anyone hoping to win needs to have completed the full rally - from start to finish - at least twice. I've done that and have started on three other occasions."
Despite having less experience of the roads than his team-mate, Latvala says his performance on the most recent round in Turkey has left him brimming with confidence. "I made mistakes in Argentina and Italy and had problems in Greece before that so the result in Turkey was a big relief,” he said. “It gave me a real boost to fight with Mikko and Sebastien Loeb and take that confidence into the summer break. Our pre-event test has been moved closer to the rally, which is good because it will give me the right feeling to take into the rally after the summer."
Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive a third Focus RS on the rally - which was the first Al Qassimi tackled with the team in 2007.
"My first year in the WRC has been a process of learning the various driving techniques and styles required to negotiate the new terrain I’ve encountered,” said 36-year-old Al Qassimi. “I've finished every event, but in Finland my pace notes and stage experience should benefit my times. It will be the first rally where I can look at my previous year's performance and assess my progress. I’m intrigued to know how I am developing one year into my WRC career."