Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team ace Mikko Hirvonen has revealed that he intends to 'take a step backwards' this year following a dispiritingly poor campaign in the World Rally Championship in 2010 – and as he bids to do battle for the crown with the striking new Fiesta S2000, the most important thing of all, he concedes, is simply to take the pressure off and 'make it fun again'.
Having proven to be Citroën rival Sébastien Loeb's closest challenger for glory in both 2008 and 2009 – and, indeed, having not finished lower than third in the drivers' standings in any of the four previous seasons – a distant sixth place for the Finn in 2010 was a desultory outcome, with just two podium finishes to his name as hitherto wild young team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala stole the initiative inside the team and seized the upper hand.
Come the end of the year, Hirvonen was not really even being spoken about as a potential rally-winner anymore – but as he strives now to banish 2010 to the scrap heap, the 30-year-old hopes that relieving the pressure he put on himself will be the key to regaining his past form.
“I'll try to forget the whole year, and I'm planning to take a step backwards,” he told Crash.net
at the pre-season Autosport International show, where the Castrol EDGE-sponsored Fiesta was unveiled to the world. “I think I tried to change myself too much in 2010 and tried to be a lot more aggressive and win stages and win rallies, and I was thinking about that maybe a bit too much. I'm going to try to forget the whole thing, go flat-out, enjoy it all and then just see where we are at the end of the rallies. I want to make it fun again – that's the main thing.”
Indeed, with the sweeping new S2000 regulations for 2011 meaning both Ford and Citroën have brought out new cars, Hirvonen is confident that he will not only be able to successfully turn the tables within his own team and reclaim his erstwhile advantage over Latvala, but also take the fight to the likes of former WRC Champion Petter Solberg, rising star Sébastien Ogier and the record-breaking Loeb, quipping that it is about time the Frenchman was finally dethroned. It is no longer, he assures, merely a one-horse race.
“It's going to be a level playing field for everybody,” opined the twelve-time rally-winner. “They (Citroën) have a completely new car as well, and we'll see in Sweden when we do the first stage where we are against them. Okay, our car feels really good and I believe we are ready for the fight, but we just don't know where they are. I think we are both on the same schedule pretty much, though, so I think it's going to be a very, very close fight again.
“I know it's going to be a very close fight with Jari-Matti – he just grew up so much last year, and he's definitely going to be one of the biggest contenders in the championship, but I have no doubt that if I keep my consistency and get back up there, we definitely have the speed to challenge him and everybody else as well. As a team, I think we're going to be very strong.
“Ogier won two rallies last year, so he's learning fast and getting faster and faster, and Petter now is going to be in a similar car. He showed some really good speed last year, so I think it can be all five drivers capable of actually fighting for the win – we'll really need to fight for all the podium places. I believe we have a chance; when everything is so new, we just have to wait and see – but if everything works, I believe we can do it.”