23 May 08
After six rounds of the 2008 World Rally Championship, BP-Ford team leader Mikko Hirvonen heads the fight for drivers' title, three points clear of defending champion Sebastien Loeb.
Following his first WRC win of the year, in Jordan, Hirvonen finished second on the most recent round in Sardegna to stay ahead of Loeb in the drivers' contest - even though the Frenchman has now won four rallies in 2008.
Hirvonen, however, has been far a more reliable points scorer this season than Loeb - or anybody else for that matter. And while Loeb's record has been hit or miss (he either wins or gets nothing) Hirvonen has been steadily banging in the results and banking the points.
It hasn't been plain sailing for the 27-year-old Finn, however, and on many rallies this year he has struggled to match the outright speed of Loeb and, increasingly, his own team-mate Jari Matti Latvala.
WRC.com caught up with Mikko after the Rally d'Italia Sardegna to ask him about the recent event and the challenges he faces this year.
Where are you now?
I'm at home in Finland.
Can you sum up your Rally Sardinia in one word?
Before the rally there was a lot of talk about the state of the stages and the damage the pre-event rain had done. What were they like to drive?
A lot better than we thought they would be. During the recce it was raining quite heavily and we thought the rain was going to make the stages soft - especially second time through. We were expecting conditions to be really, really rough but it was very good actually. I've never seen those stages in such a good condition for the first run.
What did you think when Jari-Matti Latvala was 16 seconds quicker than you through SS1?
I was a little bit surprised. I knew he was going to be faster than me - for sure - because of the road position. But I was thinking because it was a little bit damp in the morning that might help me a bit. When I saw the time it felt like it was actually the opposite and I'd be losing even more time. So I was a little bit concerned, even after the first stage, that we'd be losing a lot of time throughout Friday.
And what did you think when he went off on the next stage?
I thought okay, he's been pushing absolutely at the maximum, as he always does, and he's made a small mistake. Okay, in a way it made an easier situation for me. I knew he was going to lose some time so he probably wouldn't take any points away from me.
At the end of day two you and Jari-Matti tied second place. Did the pair of you discuss the situation back in service?
Yeah, we were laughing about it. Okay, Jari-Matti had a fantastic day to come from so far behind to end the day equal. But we both knew that it was going to be a hell of a fight on Sunday. We didn't discuss team orders or anything like than on Saturday night. We both knew that Sebastien wasn't that far ahead either so the feeling for both of use was okay, let's go flat out.
Were there team orders on Sunday morning?
Not in the morning, no. We were allowed to go flat out and then we would see the situation.