by Rob Wilkins

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH MIKKO HIRVONEN: CLICK HERE

Mikko Hirvonen put in a fantastic drive on the Rally Finland recently - and although he ultimately had to settle for second behind his team-mate, Marcus Gronholm, he made the double world champion work extremely hard for his seventh win on the 'Rally of a 1000 Lakes'. Crash.net Radio caught up with the Ford man in the countdown to the next event on the schedule, the Rallye Deutschland, which gets underway this coming Thursday...

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Crash.net:
Mikko, Rallye Deutschland is next up. What are you hoping to do there?

Mikko Hirvonen:
It is going to be a tricky rally for us. OK we are going to have a new car, which is a little bit of a question mark, but we are expecting that it will be quite good. We had a good pre-event test and so hopefully we will be able to fight against Citroen, although it is going to be a difficult fight.

Crash.net:
Rallye Deutschland is quite an odd asphalt event and each leg has its own specific challenge. How much harder does that make it?

MH:
It does make it tougher. There are so many different kinds of surfaces. There are the Baumholder stages, which are very dirty - there is concrete, tarmac and lots of holes and stuff there. There are the very fast vineyard stages as well. Plus there is the weather which can change so quickly in Germany. It is going to be a big challenge with the tyres.

Crash.net:
You recently put in a great drive in Finland. I know that is on gravel and Germany is an asphalt event, but how much of a boost is that?

MH:
It was a very fantastic result for the team. We managed to finish one-two in Finland and that puts a bit more pressure on Citroen. Personally though I am waiting more now for Rally New Zealand and Rally Japan, which like Finland, are fast gravel rallies. For Germany we want to just get through it and hopefully take some points away from Citroen. But I am really waiting for the next gravel rallies.

Crash.net:
Were you happy in the end with the runners-up spot in Finland or were you annoyed not to have taken the win?

MH:
For me the result we got in Finland was absolutely fantastic. I tried to win it, but in the end I was second. I managed to stay very close to Marcus though and we had a fantastic fight. It was a very good rally.

Crash.net:
You used the new Focus in Finland - how much of a difference did that make there?

MH:
I suppose it did make a difference. Before the rally when we did the tests for Finland, we didn't really expect that much for gravel. The car feels a bit better to drive on the loose and it doesn't slide so much - it reacts a little bit faster too when you are changing directions, but on the test roads we didn't feel that much difference. In the rally when you don't know the stages so well though the difference was a bit bigger and we were actually surprisingly faster for the event. Hopefully that will be the same on tarmac as well.

Crash.net:
You said post-Finland that the new car should make a bigger difference on asphalt than on gravel. Did you still think that will be the case?

MH:
I still have that feeling. Of course, we are now hoping even more. It looks like we have managed to make a good step on gravel, even though the changes to the Focus were only small. The car was very good on gravel and we are expecting even more now on tarmac.

Crash.net:
Sebastien Loeb has dominated in Germany ever since it joined the WRC schedule in 2002. How daunting is that for Ford?

MH:
For sure it is going to be difficult to beat him in Germany. He knows those stages well and it is basically his home rally. He lives quite close to Germany and he has dominated it every year [since it joined the WRC schedule in 2002]. Of course we will go and try, but if there is nothing we can do about him, we will hopefully fight against Dani Sordo. That is going to be very important if you think about the manufacturers' championship.

Crash.net:
There is a lot of speculation on what Marcus Gronholm might do next year. If he does retire will you be sad to see him leave the team?

MH:
Yes I will be. If that does happen though then hopefully it will be my turn to be the fastest Finnish driver in the championship. I am ready for that fight. It will be sad if Marcus leaves. He has been a big character in rallying and definitely one of the fastest ever. I am sure there will be many who will miss him if he leaves.

Crash.net:
How much more pressure will that put on you, if you become the number one driver at Ford?

MH:
I don't know. Will I become the number one driver at Ford? Who knows at the moment? That could be the case, but it is not going to bring me any more pressure. I have quite a bit of experience and I am ready for that. We just need to wait and see what happens. Either way I am happy. I don't really mind.

Crash.net:
Do you have any hunches on what he might decide?

MH:
Personally I think he will continue - but that is only my feeling.

Crash.net:
Beyond Germany, how do you see the rest of the season shaping up?

MH:
There is still quite a long way to go. It will be interesting. There is going to be some nice gravel rallies, where we have proved to be very fast and many tarmac rallies too. Germany will show the way now for the end of the season. If we are fast in Germany it is going to be fantastic end to the year. I think everything is still possible.

Crash.net:
Are you looking forward to the new event in Ireland?

MH:
That is going to be a tricky one. I have never been there. All I have heard is the strange stories about the weather and how difficult the stages are. I am really waiting to see now how it actually is.

Crash.net:
Looking to the future a bit more, the FIA has announced that the WRC calendar will drop to 12 events per year from 2009. Will you be sad to do four less events a season?

MH:
No. I think it is a good decision. They always want to reduce the costs of the FIA World Rally Championship and in my view that is the easiest way to do it. It is more than welcome.

Crash.net
Final question, you are only 5 points behind Sebastien Loeb, who is second in the drivers' championship. Can you beat him to that runners-up spot? Is that something you are targeting?

MH:
I will definitely try and hang close to him. I am not expecting that I can beat him easily on the tarmac rallies. But if something goes wrong for Sebastien I want to be right there and be able to fight for the points. Hopefully I can stay close to Sebastien - and by Rally GB, the final round in the championship, still be in with a chance to fight against him for at least the second place in the championship.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH MIKKO HIRVONEN: CLICK HERE