After being axed at the end of 2004, the Finnish duo regained their confidence and speed in a private programme the following year. Their reward was a return to the M-Sport squad and a factory drive with the BP Ford team in 2006.
Lehtinen, now back in the M-Sport Ford line-up alongside Teemu Suninen, tells Becs Williams in a fascinating extensive interview in the WRC Backstories podcast that losing the Subaru seat proved a turning point in his and Hirvonen’s career.
“It felt really bad we got sacked by Subaru at end of 2004 and we ended doing a privateer programme in 2005. It felt a bad thing but it was actually a really good thing for our career. You weren’t so naïve after that,” he said.
“In 2003 and 2004, doing a full championship both years, that gave a lot of experience. But also not to get any good success in those years, it also taught us a lot about the sport and a lot about ourselves and what we were missing.
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“Then being a privateer in 2005, that really pushed our edges and we really started to understand how much work this thing needs. You grow up as a sportsman a lot,” he added.
Lehtinen also talks about how he became involved in the sport, his days as a four-year-old watching rally legends driving past his grandparents’ home during the recce and the fellow co-drivers who were inspirations on his career.
Hilariously, he reveals how he bought a magazine in an airport en route to his first rally in Italy with Hirvonen to find a picture of his new driver so he would recognise him!
WRC Backstories delves into the behind-the-scenes lives of the people who make up the WRC. Becs Williams will return with the next edition on Thursday 4 June.