by Rob Wilkins

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

Mikko Hirvonen was on hand to help the 'Blue Oval' unveil its new-look for the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship at the Autosport International Show this week. Crash.net Radio caught up with the Finn there and got his thoughts ahead of the season opening, Rallye Monte Carlo, which gets underway in just two weeks time...

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Crash.net:
Mikko, what have you made of the Autosport International Show so far?

Mikko Hirvonen:
To be honest so far I haven't seen a lot. I have only just come and done some interviews and signed some autographs. There is a lot of people though and a lot of stands for different cars and products. Definitely I am going to go and have a look at what is out there.

Crash.net:
What do you think of Ford's new livery?

MH:
It is very colourful - for sure! I need a bit of time to get use to it but overall I think it is OK.

Crash.net:
How has your preparation been going for the new season?

MH:
I took it quite steady over Christmas and the New Year. Last year was very busy and so I just wanted to relax and enjoy being home with the family. We did some testing before Christmas and now we start again next week. So far it [my preparation] has been very good.

Crash.net:
What do you think of the new Pirelli tyres?

MH:
We have done one test for Monte Carlo and one for Sweden as well and for sure it will be different to last season. Now we will have only one tyre compound for the rallies and there will be many moments when we can't choose the right compound for the conditions. It is going to be different. But it is just about which team or driver learns to use the tyres best in the different conditions. I think it will be a good change for the championship.

Crash.net:
Will you have to change your driving style now anti-deflation devices have been outlawed?

MH:
I don't think it will change that much. In tarmac rallies you have to be more careful in the recce and really check the places where you can cut. But they are making the tyres stronger anyway and so on snow and gravel the driving style is not going to change at all.

Crash.net:
You have a new team-mate this year, are you looking forward to working with Jari-Matti Latvala?

MH:
Yeah, he proved his speed last season and there is no question he is going to be very fast this year as well. It is good to have another Finn in the team again. I really had a good time with Marcus [Gronholm] and it makes some small things easier when you can just talk Finnish. I am sure we are going to get along quite well.

Crash.net:
Are you going to miss Marcus and do you think the team will miss his input?

MH:
I am sure everyone will miss him - and his comments and his experience. But he decided to retire and luckily I had two very good years to work with him. Now though times have changed and it is up to us to keep Finland at the top of rallying.

Crash.net:
What are your aims for the season opening, Rallye Monte Carlo? Is it a case of damage limitation and just to try and get some solid points?

MH:
No, I think if I want to win the title I need to go to all the rallies and try and win. Of course, like always, it depends on what the weather does. But still I just need to go there and try and win the rally - and if I can't then I will try to be second.

Crash.net:
What weather conditions would you prefer on the Monte? I guess you would prefer it snowy, rather than how it was last year...

MH:
Last year when it was a dry tarmac rally it didn't really feel like the Rallye Monte Carlo. You always need some ice and some snow and tricky conditions. That is the real Monte. Hopefully we will have that this year.

Crash.net:
Are you looking forward to that event, especially as there will be four-days of proper stages?

MH:
It looks very good. Of course it is going to feel like it is a very long rally as we are driving almost for four days. But I think that is what rallying needs. We start in the dark and do two stages on the Thursday night. Then we have two proper days and after that we drive back to Monte Carlo and do the legendary Turini stages. It is very good how the rally is now.

Crash.net:
In terms of your rivals, Sebastien Loeb is going to be your main threat. Just how crucial is it then for you to do well on the Monte and get your title bid off to a good start?
MH:
It is very important and of course anything can happen on the Rallye Monte Carlo. It is a difficult rally. But if you want to take the title you cannot have any rallies where you don't get any points. There is no room for any mistakes or to go off the road. It is going to be tricky but it is the same for everybody. Everybody has to drive in the same conditions. You never know what is going to happen.

Crash.net:
Of your other rivals, Subaru have the new Impreza coming out at some point this season, while Suzuki joins the fold at the top level with the all-new SX4 WRC. How big a boost is that for the sport?

MH:
It is good to have new teams in the championship - that is for sure. OK we will see how fast the Suzuki is going to be. I am sure everyone is keen to see how they will do. Also Subaru are getting a new car and hopefully they will find the speed again. But I think Jari-Matti is going to be very strong this year in some rallies and [Citroen's #2 driver] Dani Sordo will be as well. Gigi Galli is going to be in the WRC too [with the Stobart Ford team] and that is a very good thing for the whole sport. It should be a colourful season.

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