BP Ford Abu Dhabi number one driver Mikko Hirvonen fulfilled a childhood dream by winning the legendary Neste Oil Rally Finland last weekend in front of his home town fans in Jyv?skyl?.

Hirvonen, who celebrated his 29th birthday during the opening leg on Friday, led for all but the first couple of kilometres in his M-Sport-run Focus RS WRC car, winning ten stages in total en-route to the victory.

Hirvonen steadily pulled away from closest rival and championship protagonist S?bastien Loeb and when the Frenchman damaged a tyre on Saturday afternoon, he was able to measure his pace, reduce the risks and bring his car home to notch up an emotional win in front of his family and friends.

It was his third straight triumph and meant he extended his lead in the battle for the 2009 WRC drivers' title to three points with three rounds to go.

"I have been following the rally since I was a kid and if you look at the list of drivers who have won it before it is very impressive," Hirvonen reflected. "Now I have won here myself and joined so many of the sport's legends who have taken the victory here. This is definitely one of the best wins in my career. After the last stage I was shaking. I couldn't believe I had actually won it.

"Like I said, for me the biggest thing was being up there with all the great Finnish drivers: [Markku] Alen, [Ari] Vatanen, [Hannu] Mikkola and [Tommi] M?kinen have all won it and they are my biggest heroes. And now I manage to win it as well, so it feels really good.

"It's such a fantastic sensation to win my home rally that I can't put my feelings into words. It has been such a great weekend for the team that there will be big celebrations tonight.

"I felt in control throughout the rally. It was a great battle with Loeb and when he had a problem, I could afford to take it a little bit easier.

"I felt really confident before this event though, and everybody said you must have lots of pressure coming to your home event with the Championship so close, but I didn't feel the pressure at all.

"I felt really good and for sure I knew it would never be an easy fight against him but I thought if everything worked then we could definitely do it. It went exactly to plan. This time it was our turn."

Hirvonen's co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen meanwhile was just as delighted to take the win and said he was 'close to tears' following the last stage, the 6.50 kilometre Ruuhimaki test.

"It is emotional to be honest," Lehtinen continued. "It must have been 1977 when I spectated on this rally for the first time and now I am here winning it. I am almost out of words to describe how it feels.

"Before the final stage that was the longest time to wait because the running order was different. We had to wait 10 minutes and that felt like an entire weekend. But like Mikko said, when we crossed the finish line I didn't realise we had done it as it just felt like another stage win. But on the road section it started to sink in!"

The WRC now heads to Australia next and Hirvonen will be gunning for his fourth win in succession 'down under'.

"Australia will be a new rally for everybody and I don't know what the surface will be like. In the past it has been very difficult to be first on the road. But we will see," Hirvonen added.

"It is now three to go and we are leading by three points. If all goes well in Australia we can take the battle right to the end."


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