by Rob Wilkins.

BP Ford number two driver, Mikko Hirvonen has had a tough start to the new season and while things turned around somewhat in Corsica two weeks ago when he finished fourth, the Finn is eager now to keep that up and ideally go at least one better in Argentina next weekend.

Here speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio Mikko looks back on his season to date and predicts that the new Focus will just keep getting better and better. Watch out Citroen!

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Q:
Mikko, we are five events into the new season. How do you assess things thus far for yourself?

Mikko Hirvonen:
Well it could be better [laughs]... it hasn't been so easy a start to the season for me. But, OK in the end we had some technical problems and my own mistake in Mexico, so we lost a lot of points because of those. But in the end it has been OK - it's not so bad.

Q:
You had your best result of the season in Corsica two weeks ago, when you finished fourth. You just missed out on third though, so I guess you had mixed feelings from there as well?

MH:
Yeah just missed it again like in Sweden, Mexico and Catalunya! But at least it was a fair fight. We didn't have any problems throughout the whole weekend - no mistakes or anything. Yeah it was a shame, as I really wanted to be third, but [Daniel] Sordo was just faster there. No kind of regrets on that one and fourth was a good position.

Q:
What about the other events this year? You finished seventh in Monte Carlo, which is your second best result to date this season.

MH:
Yeah I wasn't expecting so much there from Monte Carlo. That has always been a very, very difficult event for me. It was my best finish ever in Monte Carlo and we got two points. I was happy with that. OK we could have done better, but it was a good start to the season and the first time I have finished that rally. So I was pleased.

Q:
You were with Ford of course in 2003. What is it like to be back now with them?

MH:
It has been great, just great. I know everybody already from 2003 - all the mechanics, the engineers and the team management, everybody. It is just really good to be back. It is like being back at home actually. The atmosphere, everything has been very good through the whole season so far so far. I have really been enjoying it.

Q:
Have you noticed any changes?

MH:
There are always changes. I wouldn't say any big changes though. Some people are doing different things and also the engineers and mechanics are learning a lot or have been learning a lot since 2003. So everything basically works a little bit better. They have more history and information from those years. So no big changes and basically everybody is the still there from before.

Q:
After being a privateer last year you must be glad to be back in a factory team and doing all the events?

MH:
Definitely - in times like these it is not the best for the World Rally Championship, there isn't too many [factory] seats available and it wasn't easy to get. I was just glad we managed to and now I have a chance to improve and get some good results.

Q:
Next up is Argentina - what are your hopes?

MH:
Like all this season we want to fight for a podium - that is the aim. If all goes well and we don't have any problems and maybe are a little bit lucky, we might get a first or second too. We will just fight the whole three days and see how it goes.

Q:
You were testing in Sardinia prior to Corsica for Argentina and Sardinia itself. How did that go?

MH:
It went well. It [the new Focus] has always, always been very good [in testing]. In a way we have been a little bit unfortunate in that we never have any problems in tests, but then in the rallies we get silly problems like in Catalunya with the waste-gate. It felt very good and again we found a few things with the car. It is still quite new and there are many things we can improve. It was good. I am sure the car will be competitive in Argentina.

Q:
What can we expect from the new Focus as the year progresses?

MH:
It will just get faster I am sure like the drivers! OK we have a good fight with Citroen for the manufacturers' championship but I am sure we have a good chance to win it. I think as the year goes on, we can improve the car and make it faster and stronger. It will be very difficult for Citroen to beat us come the end of the year.

Q:
You mentioned Citroen there as one of your key rivals, do you think Subaru will be back on form on gravel?

MH:
I am sure yeah, now you mention it. I am sure they will be a lot faster on gravel. A little bit like me, they had a really bad start to the year. A lot of problems and it hasn't worked out that well for them. So for sure they will be faster now. But we have taken points from them already and I believe we can keep them behind us [in the manufacturers'].

Q:
What about the remainder of the season. What are you aiming for?

MH:
Well we just need to get more points. I was really disappointed after Spain about the situation and how it was. We had lost so many points we were quite far behind in the drivers' championship. But OK it is better now and we still have a chance to maybe fight for third or fourth place in the standings - that's aim. But I think I will just try and concentrate on one rally at a time to be honest - and do as well as I can.

Q:
This year the WRC has lost the works presence of Peugeot, Mitsubishi and Skoda - and to an extent Citroen too. How well do you think the sport has coped with that?

MH:
I think it has been OK. It did look quite bad and of course for me, the media always makes it a bit worse than how it really is. But OK like you said there is only three manufacturers' [in the M1 category now] - but then again there is almost all the same drivers' from last year fighting for the championship. So for me it has been really, really interesting and at least it gives a good chance for privateers to do a good result, which in a way makes it more interesting.

Q:
Do you think the Manufacturer 2 category has helped?

MH:
Yeah, yeah it has been great. And anyway now there are rumours and news of new teams coming back in World Rally next year or the year after. For me it has always been like this in the World Rally Championship. It goes up and down. Some years you have loads of teams involved and then some years only one or two. So I am sure it will get better.

Q:
Continuing with next year, the 2007 championship will be a mini-affair before the schedule switches to running over two calendar years. What are your thoughts on this?

MH:
Well we won't be able to afford a start like this year - four rallies and only two points, as we won't have any time to take that gap back! I am sure it will work though. It will be strange to do just seven or eight rallies and that is the championship. But other than that it is just a change and I think we just have to cope with it. Always when there is a change in the rules or rallies the first thing is everybody is a little bit complaining about it, but then it always works out. We will see. I am sure it is a good thing.

Q:
Thanks for your time Mikko - and good luck in Argentina.

MH:
No problem.