by Rob Wilkins

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

Mikko Hirvonen finished the 2007 season by taking the win on the season ending Wales Rally GB. Crash.net Radio caught up with him to chat about that event, his year as a whole and his prospects for 2008, when he will be thrust into the limelight that much more, as he is expected to lead the BP Ford World Rally Team challenge following Marcus Gronholm's decision to retire...

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Crash.net:
Mikko, you finished the season with victory on the Rally GB, your third of the season. How happy were you with your performance in Wales?

Mikko Hirvonen:
I think if you saw the conditions, I am really happy. The Rally GB has never really been good for me - I have never had any good results there and have always been a bit too cautious in those conditions. So in that respect, I really rate the win quite highly.

Crash.net:
As you say, the weather this year on Rally GB was appalling. How much more difficult did that make things?

MH:
Well especially on Friday evening it was very difficult. Let's say through the whole of day 1 there was lots of fog and in all the stages there were problems with visibility. Then we went into the last stage and it was in the dark and that was very hard. There was so much fog and rain you could see only two or five metres in places. You really had to slow down and that is very difficult because even though you know everybody else has to do the same, you don't know how much to ease off. It is very difficult to be patient enough and just try and keep everything together.

Crash.net:
What did you think of the night stages? Were they a good addition to the event?

MH:
It is definitely kind of a new thing in the WRC. I know in the old days they use to drive in the dark all the time and maybe it is not so good for spectators and for TV, but it makes things more interesting. Definitely a lot more things happen all of the time and it is a new challenge for today's drivers - it is quite nice.

Crash.net:
This year you finished third in the standings and scored 99 points. Were you satisfied with the season overall?

MH:
Yes I am and the result in the end was very good. At the start of the year I was hoping I could stay quite close to Marcus and Sebastien [Loeb] in the drivers' championship and maybe challenge them on some rallies, which I did. After Finland I was only 5 points behind Sebastien but then on the tarmac rallies he got a lot of points and pulled out a gap. But overall I am really pleased with how the season went. In the future I need to take a step further and further - and then be even higher next year.

Crash.net:
How much do you think you have come on this year?

MH:
I think I made a step in a few rallies and I managed to get into the fight on a few of the faster events and when I got there I felt pretty strong and confident. I know now if I get the right feeling I can really do well. It made things clearer and easier for me this year.

Crash.net:
Ford brought in the 2007 spec Focus from Finland. How much did that help you and the team?

MH:
It is difficult to say. For sure the car was very good and reliable and everything was improved a little bit. But I think the difference just looked a bit bigger in Finland than in 'real life'. Marcus and I just know the roads and the rally so well there and it was easy to push and go to the maximum in absolutely every corner. We still need to improve the car and of course it is very good at the moment and it is difficult to make a big step, but we need something small all of the time.

Crash.net:
Next year it looks like you will be leading the BP Ford WRT, now that Marcus Gronholm has retired. Are you looking forward to that challenge?

MH:
Definitely, I feel that I have enough experience and I have a good team behind me. I am ready for the challenge.

Crash.net:
Do you have any preferences in terms of who might end up being your team-mate?

MH:
No not really. It doesn't really matter who it is. If it turns out to be another Finn, for example, Jari-Matti [Latvala] I wouldn't mind. He is another young driver. The last two years working with Marcus it was in some ways easier and funnier having a Finnish team-mate - you would spend a bit more time together and have some fun. It would be nice to have a Finn again, but it doesn't really make much difference in the end.

Crash.net:
A lot of people are predicting that Jari-Matti will get promoted to the BP Ford team and will take that seat. Do you think he deserves that chance?

MH:
Well he definitely has the speed - there is no doubt about that. He is still very young though and makes mistakes. If he gets the job he will get a bit more testing and just more time in the car. We will see. It is definitely going to be a big challenge for him. But he is very fast and he might have a few good rallies.

Crash.net:
What are your plans now for the off season?

MH:
There is some testing still to do and then with being away so much, I just want to try and relax and spend some time with my family and friends back in Finland. I just want to calm down and relax over Christmas.

Crash.net:
Do you think you can challenge for the title in 2008 and beat Sebastien Loeb?

MH:
I will definitely go for it - but I think in the last four seasons everybody has seen how difficult it is to beat Sebastien. I am looking forward to it however and if I have a perfect season I think I have a chance. Of course though, it needs to be absolutely spot-on - every rally. It is going to be a difficult challenge but I will try.

Crash.net:
The new season will start at the end of January with the Rallye Monte Carlo. What can you do there?

MH:
It is a long rally - we have four days of rallying and it is going to be the first rally with new tyres, with Pirelli. The whole tyre construction is going to be completely new in 2008 as well. I think on the tarmac the new tyres are going to make a bigger difference than on snow or gravel. We will have to see if that changes anything, but Citroen are always very strong in Monte Carlo. Hopefully I can be close and get as many points as possible from there and then in Sweden I will go after the win.

Crash.net:
I guess with no-run flat mousse all the drivers' though will have to take it that bit more cautiously?

MH:
I think on asphalt maybe a little bit, but everybody is saying they are going to make the tyres stronger anyway. At the moment, all the testing we are doing, we don't have any mousse - and even with the previous tyres you could really go over big stones and they are actually pretty strong. So on tarmac maybe - but we have to do some testing first before we know for sure.

Crash.net:
Thanks for your time Mikko and good luck in 2008.

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