Mikko Hirvonen will be gunning for his fourth win in a row on the Repco Rally Australia this coming weekend and intent on strengthening his lead in the battle for the 2009 World Rally drivers' championship.
Hirvonen is on a roll and having won in Greece and Poland, did it again at the start of last month, when he came out top in front of his home fans in Finland. Despite that run of success though, he is only three points up on arch rival, Sebastien Loeb and with three events left - including the trip to New South Wales – it is still very open.
Indeed the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT number one driver is conscious that a DNF could ruin his season and effectively end his title challenge.
"I love Australia. They are nice, friendly and easy going people like me! I love the country too. Especially out of the towns and cities and into the countryside, it's really beautiful. I've been to Sydney before and the Gold Coast once. I was there for a week a few years ago and I'm really looking forward to going back," Hirvonen stated prior to the tenth round in the 2009 World Rally Championship.
"It is though a crucial rally for the championship. I will try to win but if I can't, then I must score as many points as possible.
"Zero points and the title fight could be over for me this year. I have a good record on new rallies, although I don't feel I do anything differently in either the recce or the rally itself. But I'll be happy if I can maintain that record."
Hirvonen claimed his first WRC win in Australia back in 2006, but the 29-year-old acknowledges that will count for nothing now the event has shifted 4000 kilometres east of its previous home in Perth.
"This is a brand new rally so I don't know what to expect," he continued. "The roads in the west where I won in 2006 are different to those we will experience here. The tracks were covered in slippery marble-like stones but I understand these roads are more traditional gravel, which should suit me. I'm hoping to do well. As I'm leading the championship I'm going to be first on the road on the Friday which won't be easy. It will be easier for me if the roads are wet. It would be great to win the event but I'm thinking the same as I was going into Rally Finland."
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson meanwhile is bullish about the prospects of Hirvonen taking this year's drivers' title – and he is also looking forward to going back to Australia. He is excited about the format too, which includes 35 different stages over the three-days.
"I haven't been to the east coast since I competed there in the 1983 and '84. That was further south at Gosford near Sydney. I'm sure we'll get the same warm welcome as we did on west coast. It's going to be interesting going to an event with so many stages which is different to a current WRC format. That's going back to the way it used to be with lots of stages during a three-day event," he added.
"We feel that Mikko is in a strong position to be able to challenge for the drivers' championship and the manufacturers' title is not out of reach. Prior to Sardinia in May it was looking difficult but the incredible thing about this sport is it can change so quickly. And it certainly has for us! We've hauled ourselves up after Sardinia to now being in a good position for both championships. In an ideal world Mikko needs to finish ahead of Sebastien Loeb in Australia. I'm certainly feeling more confident about the drivers' championship with only three events remaining this year."