Mikko Hirvonen enjoyed the perfect start to his World Rally Championship season in Sweden, securing a victory he admits could be crucial in his bid to secure the WRC crown.

Hirvonen missed out on the 2009 title by a single point to Sebastien Loeb, despite leading the way going into the season finale in Wales.

After a three-day long battle with the Frenchman in Sweden, Hirvonen secured victory by more than 40 seconds after a tyre gamble on Saturday afternoon allowed the Finn to pull out a lead that Loeb was unable to close.

With one victory under his belt, Hirvonen said he was keen to try and put together a winning run to build his championship challenge, with Swedish victory being the perfect start.

"After losing the title last year by a point I knew I had to win more, rather than settle for consistent points finishes, so this is the ideal start," he said. "It was a big win for us and I want many more this season. It's the first time I've won the opening round of the year. I tried to be more aggressive from the start in all aspects of my performance. It was a brave decision on Saturday to change the tyres when I did but it paid off and those kind of decisions make the difference between winning and losing.

"It was such a hard rally for the tyres on the exposed gravel and you can't imagine how nervous I was driving the final stage. I have a year's more experience of a title battle than this time last year and I think that showed here. I need to continue in the same way for the rest of the season."

Team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala secured third place in the sister car to give Ford an early lead in both championships, with BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team boss Malcolm Wilson admitting it had been the ideal start to the year.

"[Mikko's] drive on the second leg was by far his best performance in the way he managed both the day and, particularly, his tyres," he said. "He is putting his experience to good use. He has progressed steadily over the years to the point that he is now beating the world's best driver. Jari-Matti played the perfect support role to Mikko and I could not have imagined a better start to the season."

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