11 Jan 08
Ford’s lead driver Mikko Hirvonen is hoping to start this year’s WRC season where his predecessor Marcus Gronholm left off - as one of the favourites for the drivers’ championship title.
The 25-year-old was third in the contest in 2006 and 2007, and played an important support role in securing the manufacturers title for Ford on both occasions. Now, however, Hirvonen says he’s ready to take the lead role and push for his own championship win.
“I’m definitely going to think about the drivers’ title,” said Hirvonen. “That’s my main aim and, of course, I know it’s going to be very difficult, and the season needs to be perfect if I’m going to do it, but I think it’s possible, so I’m going to go for it.
“It’s going to be difficult to fill Marcus’s shoes but there’s been a very good two years behind me now where I learnt quite a lot, so now we are moving on. I’m sure I can, hopefully, take some wins and carry on where Marcus finished.
“If I’m going to take the title I have to go to all the rallies and think about the win. Monte Carlo is a difficult start to the season. Sebastian [Loeb] has been very strong over there, but if I can’t win rallies I need to be second and that’s going to be my approach.”
Hirvonen knows all about the value of consistency. Of the 32 rallies he has started with Ford, he has failed to finish just twice. In 2007 he was the only works-team driver to finish every rally, and with the exception of Corsica, he scored championship points on every round. “I was following Marcus’s battle with Sebastian very closely last year and I know what it takes. You just can’t retire from a rally - you have to be in the points all the time and attack on every stage.”
Unsurprisingly, Hirvonen expects the biggest challenge to come from Loeb, the most successful driver in the history of the sport, and the man aiming for a record breaking fifth consecutive drivers’ title. Hirvonen, however, is remaining positive: “Well, opponents don’t get any better than he is. So if I manage to beat him, at least on one rally, then I’ve done something very well. For sure it’s going to be difficult. He’s been very good but he’s still human, he makes mistakes too, so we’ll see.
“Sebastian will be the strongest challenger, but there might be someone else as well. If Subaru can fix the problems they have had with the car, then Petter and Chris might be there. I’m sure Jari-Matti will be very fast on some rallies and Sordo as well. I hope there will be a lot of drivers fighting for the title.”