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

Mikko Hirvonen will be hoping to go all the way this year having finished runner-up to Sebastien Loeb in 2008. Here

Crash.net Radio's Rob Wilkins speaks to the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team number one and gets his thoughts ahead of the new season, which kicks off this week with the Rally Ireland...

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Crash.net:
Mikko, how are you feeling going into the new WRC season?

Mikko Hirvonen:
The feeling is really good. It's been a quite a long break so I actually can't wait to get to Ireland and start driving again.

Crash.net:
Will it be strange to start the year in Ireland as opposed to Monte Carlo?

MH:
Yeah it is actually. It has always started in Monte Carlo so it feels a bit strange to go to Ireland, but I think the feeling is that Ireland could be even more difficult than Monte Carlo has been in recent years. It's definitely going to be a difficult start.

Crash.net:
Twelve months ago you took over as the number one driver at the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team. How much more confident do you feel now ahead of Rally Ireland?

MH:
I definitely feel more confident; if you just think of the title fight. I didn't really know what to fully expect last year - what I could actually do - but then I saw that I was able to stay in the title fight for quite a long time. It wasn't quite enough, but I think I learnt what I need to do to if I want to be able to beat Sebastien.

Crash.net:
Were you happy with how last year went overall?

MH:
Of course it's always disappointing to lose in the end, but overall I'm really happy with how it went. I had good speed in some rallies and was really consistent. All I need to do now is just be a bit more crazy - and win more rallies, then hopefully we can do it.

Crash.net:
There was no Rally Ireland last year, but you finished fourth in 2007. What is it like as an event?

MH:
It's very difficult and should be even more difficult now it is in January, when there will be some black ice in places. It is so narrow and fast. Also lots of cars pull mud on the road and everything... it's going to be a difficult start to the year.

Crash.net:
Have you done any pre-event testing yet? Are there any changes to the car for Ireland?

MH:
No, we're going to do it next week [January 19-23 - Ed]. I think there are not going to be so many changes made to the car this year, with the world economy and then how the rules are changing in rallying, we are looking ahead as well. So just fine tuning. It's been two years since we ran in Ireland so maybe there is something we can improve.

Crash.net:
Citroen and Sebastien Loeb are usually very, very good on asphalt, as is Seb's team-mate, Dani Sordo. Does that worry you?

MH:
Yeah for sure. Okay it's the first rally of the season so I'm not too worried, but of course it will be very difficult to fight against them and it will be interesting to see how fast Chris Atkinson is in the Citroen. I think he will be very fast in some rallies, so he might be up there fighting as well.

Crash.net:
What target, if any, have you set for Ireland?

MH:
Well I definitely want to be on the podium, but of course if there is any chance I want to try and fight for the win. A podium or a win I will be happy.

Crash.net:
Some might say, given the way things have gone in recent years, that Sebastien Loeb sixth title is a mere formality. What would you say to that?

MH:
I definitely aim to stop that now. I did learn a lot last year and I know, or I think I know, what it takes to win the title so hopefully I can push even harder this year and stop him taking a sixth title.

Crash.net:
You kept the title battle alive until Japan last year - do you think you can go all the way this season?

MH:
Hope so! Maybe I can even get it earlier than the last rally. I just hope it goes in my favour this time.

Crash.net:
We have talked about Sebastien Loeb as a title contender, but how much of a worry is your own team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala?

MH:
Well there's no doubt there is enough speed in him to be the champion, it just depends on if he can be more consistent than last year. If he can do that then he can definitely be a very strong rival as well.

Crash.net:
The WRC has had a difficult build up to the 2009 season, with the exit of Subaru and Suzuki. Are you worried about the state of the sport?

MH:
Yeah for sure it's never good when there are teams going away and people are saying the whole of rallying is dying. Okay the economy is in a bad condition at the moment and it is definitely not good to see teams going, but personally for me the fight is still as hard as it was last year against Sebastian and if Chris gets a good programme with Citroen and Petter finds a good car then the fight could even be harder than 2008. I think it's going to be a very interesting season.

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