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 Jyväskylä.
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 Sébastien 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] Mäkinen 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.