by Rob Wilkins

BP Ford's Mikko Hirvonen has been on a bit of a roll this season and has scored good points in all five events to date, including taking the second WRC win of his career in Norway back in February. He currently lies third in the drivers' championship, only eight points behind Sebastien Loeb. Crash.net Radio spoke exclusively to him recently and got his thoughts on the year to date...

Q:
Mikko, we are five events in now. How do you assess your season so far?

Mikko Hirvonen:
It's actually been quite good. I have scored points in all the rallies and I am really pleased with that. That's what you need if you want to get a good result in the championship. OK, in the last few rallies, I was hoping to do a little bit better but you can't win every time. It is looking good.

Q:
Staying with the events to date, how much of a confidence booster was that win in Norway?

MH:
I rate that win higher than my one in Australia [last year]. It came driving against Marcus [Gronholm - my team-mate] and Sebastien [Loeb]. It gives me a lot of confidence.

But then again, it is quite a specialised rally [a snow event]. I knew that I wouldn't be able to do the same on gravel straight away. I need a few rallies and a little bit more experience on gravel so that I can really fight for the victory.

Q:
The last event of course was Portugal. It ended on a sour note for Ford after those 5 minute penalties. Were you surprised by what happened?

MH:
Yeah, I was really surprised. OK it is just a silly mistake from the team side. Nobody noticed we had illegal side windows and it doesn't really affect anything. But it is against the rules. It is just a shame we lost some points.

Q:
Did you think the verdict was a bit harsh, especially as there was only half a millimetre in it?

MH:
Yeah there was no gain in terms of performance. For me, I think a better kind of a punishment would have been to give some kind of penalty to the team and not the drivers' because we didn't have anything to do with it. But that is the way it is now. We didn't lose so much, at least I didn't. We can't change it anymore.

Q:
There is a big gap now between Portugal, the last event and the next round in Argentina, what is planned for that period?

MH:
It has been a good time for me to do some training and relax a bit. We have some tests just before Argentina, but it has been two and a half weeks now since Portugal and I have just stayed at home. I have been building my old cars and have got all the thoughts away from rallying for a change. It's good to have some time off.

Q:
What's the focus for that pre-Argentina test? Is it just preparing for that event?

MH:
A little bit, but it is more to do with the new car, which we are going to get later on this year. We are going to test some new parts. But for sure, Citroen seems to be very strong - especially with Sebastien on gravel. As such we have to try and find some speed as well - and some driveability with the [current] car on gravel [so that we can challenge him a bit more].

Q:
What are you hoping to achieve in Argentina?

MH:
In all the rallies I just try to get as close as I can to try and fight for the win. I want to get as close as possible to Marcus and Sebastien. But at the same time I need to think about my own points and stay on the speed. I don't want to go off the road. I want to try and get as many points as I can.

Q:
What about your target for the season? Would you be happy if you end up third in the drivers' championship, behind your team-mate, Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb?

MH:
Yes, if the gap is not too big. I am not going to be happy if I end up finishing all the rallies in third and then at the end of the year are third in the championship. For me that would not be progress. I want to at least, hopefully, win some rallies and get some second places. I think slowly I should get closer and get into the fight for the drivers' title. To do that, I need to be faster than them in some of the rallies. Hopefully I can do that. If I am third it is OK but hopefully I can be in the fight a little bit.

Q:
What do you need to do to be able to challenge them more regularly? Is it all about experience?

MH:
Not all, but quite a lot. I know there are some things I still need to improve in terms of my driving. But experience does play a big part of it. A little bit of everything I would say though.

Q:
Are there any events that you think might be especially good for you during the rest of the season?

MH:
I think almost all of the rallies are good for me. I would say it is easier to say the other way around. Bad rallies will be, maybe Argentina. I don't have so much experience there. I have always retired over there, except in 2004. As such I have less experience of those stages than everyone else has. Germany will be tough too. It is just one of those rallies that I don't like. The other rallies I really enjoy though and I think I have a chance to fight on all the other events.

Q:
Looking at your rivals - what have you made of the new Citroen and the new Subaru?

MH:
It looks like Subaru have made a step forward. Petter [Solberg] has had good speed in all the rallies since they introduced it. So, I am sure they are going to be strong and more in the fight in all the rallies now. That is good. We are going to have more fights like in Portugal when after the first leg there was 8 seconds between the top four drivers'.

Citroen are as fast as always but I don't think that Sebastien gets his results that easy. It looks like he is dominating but we will be there. We are not going to give up.

Q:
Are you looking forward to getting the new Focus?

MH:
Yeah it is always interesting to get a new car. We are waiting on some improvements and there is going to be many things that change. But we will have to see how big a step it is forward. It is always kind of a question mark but for sure we are waiting.

Q:
I appreciate it is early days, but can you tell us anything more about the new Focus?

MH:
It is quite early. It is not going to be a completely new car. It is going to be based quite a lot on the old car. It is just that everything is going to be a little bit changed. We haven't done any tests at all yet with the complete car. We have just tested different parts. So we don't know so much about it yet.