by Rob Wilkins

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

Mikko Hirvonen finished the first third of the season on a real high, by not only taking his first win of the year in Jordan at the end of last month, but also by re-taking the lead in the race for the 2008 drivers' title. Crash.net Radio caught up with the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT man to see how he is feeling ahead of the next round in Sardinia...

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Crash.net:
Mikko, thanks to that victory in the Middle East you now lead the drivers' championship again, how significant was it?

Mikko Hirvonen:
Of course it was a really important win for me. I lost valuable points in Argentina. It started very well over there, but it didn't end so well. We lost a lot of points and when Sebastien [Loeb] had his problems in Jordan, it was very important for me to take the win and get back the lead.

Crash.net:
The Ford team played it quite tactically in Jordan - will we see that kind of strategy again on future gravel events?

MH:
Maybe - it depends on the rallies and what the situation is on the Saturday evening because I thought I might gain a bit more on the Sunday morning. But in the end we were fighting against Dani Sordo [who was first on the road] and I beat him by only two seconds in that long stage [SS19 - the first run through the 41.45 km Jordan River test]. The difference really wasn't as big as we thought. It depends on the situation and how it goes on the other rallies.

Crash.net:
How do you assess the first third of the year for yourself and Ford?

MH:
I have been waiting to win. I was second in Monte Carlo and I was planning to win in Sweden, but Jari-Matti [Latvala - my team-mate] was really, really fast over there. I am glad I managed to get my first win of the year in Jordan and I am back in the lead again [in the drivers' championship]. That is very good for the whole team.

Crash.net:
It must have been a bit of a relief to get that first win, just how much has it boosted your confidence?

MH:
It did a little bit of course. But to be honest Sebastien was very fast on Saturday morning and he was getting away. I am sure it would have been difficult to fight against him. But we managed to change the car a little bit on the Sunday and now we have a test before Sardinia and so I am pretty confident. I am sure we can find some more speed and maybe get even closer to Sebastien in the coming rallies.

Crash.net:
How are you going to approach Sardinia, Greece and Turkey, the three events before the summer break?

MH:
It is definitely going to be flat-out on all of those rallies. Thinking about the championship it would be really nice to go into the summer break in the lead. I will try and win all of them and if I can win one or two and stay close to Sebastien that would be fantastic.

Crash.net:
Do you like Sardinia, because of course you were second last year there - and in 2006 too?

MH:
It is a very nice rally and I have been there every year the rally has been in Sardinia. I know the roads quite well and there is something about it that I like. The stages are nice. It is not that rough and so you don't need to be too worried about your car or anything. I am really looking forward to it.

Crash.net:
Will the event in Sardinia and the two in Greece and Turkey suit you and the Focus?

MH:
Yes I am sure. Our team is going to be very strong there. Personally for me I have always struggled a little bit to find the maximum speed on those rallies. I have always felt more at home on the faster rallies. But those events are very important and I really need to get some good results and then the rest of the season will be easier for me.

Crash.net:
All three of the events coming up feature quite rough and rocky roads. Are you worried about punctures, especially now there are no anti-deflation devices?

MH:
For sure we will need to be a little bit cautious, even though the tyre has proven to be very strong. But then again it starts to be a problem for the rims and other parts of the car now. You need to be a bit careful, but the tyre is strong and I am not so worried about it.

Crash.net:
What developments does the team have coming up to try and help you and Jari in the battle with Citroen?

MH:
There are no big changes coming. But we are always looking to find the best compromise with the car. It is just about trying different things and going backwards and forwards with diffs and suspension and trying to find the best balance. Not any new parts, but just trying to find a good set-up really.

Crash.net:
In terms of rivals for the championship title, Sebastien Loeb is obviously you main one, but is Chris Atkinson a concern too? Is he the 'dark horse'?

MH:
He has been very consistent. He use to drive absolutely flat-out and made some mistakes - but now if he doesn't feel so confident with the car, he takes it a bit more easy and he has been getting some very good results driving like that. Who knows when they get the new car, Chris might be there and fighting for the title as well. He is getting closer and also Jari-Matti is very fast on all the rallies too. There are still a few drivers who can fight for the title.

Crash.net:
Will Subaru be more of a worry when the team launches it new car?

MH:
We will see what happens. Hopefully they will start to do better - that would be good for everybody, the whole championship.

Crash.net:
You mentioned Jari, do you consider him and Dani Sordo title threats as well?

MH:
Yeah, Jari-Matti for sure - he has been very fast on gravel and he is pretty good on tarmac as well. I am still waiting to see a bit more consistency from Dani on gravel but he did very well in Jordan. Maybe he has found the speed now and I am sure there will be many rallies when it is not only two guys fighting for the win. It might be five or six. That would be very interesting.

Crash.net:
With Dani playing more of a traditional number two role, do you think Jari should do the same and that Ford should put all its efforts behind you in terms of going for the drivers' crown?

MH:
No, I don't think Ford will ever make a decision like that. I think at the moment we can both win rallies and we both have a good chance of the drivers' title as well. I am sure we will be allowed to fight in every rally.

Crash.net:
Have you missed Marcus Gronholm at all this season?

MH:
Yeah, it was a nice two years with him and we had lots of fun. But then again it is one less opponent to fight with - and so in that way it makes it easier! [laughs]

Crash.net:
Final question, how would you like to see the WRC develop in future years? What needs to be done to improve it?

MH:
I think the changes that are coming sound quite interesting and good. Hopefully it will bring more drivers' and manufacturers' to the championship. If that happens, it will be great. I am quite pleased with what the FIA has done.

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