Mikko Hirvonen was delighted after taking the spoils on Rally Italia Sardegna this weekend and admitted at the finish that in a way it felt a bit like when he took his maiden victory back in Australia in 2006.
Hirvonen dominated the penultimate round in the 2012 World Rally Championship and while his three key rivals all made crucial errors on Friday, he put in a faultless performance at the wheel of his Citroen DS3 WRC.
Indeed he built an unassailable lead on the second day, which allowed him to pace himself through days three and four, eventually triumphing by 1 minute 20.6 seconds. The result guarantees him second place in the 2012 WRC drivers' championship – just like he managed in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
“I'm really very happy with this result in my first season with Citroen. I have finished on the podium many times since February, but I was beginning to grow irritated at not finishing on the top step!” Hirvonen said. “After a very short – too short – scrap with Sebastien [Loeb – my team-mate, who went out in SS3], in the end, it was actually through being patient that I won the rally.
“I am pleased to do it here for the team, who have done everything they could to help me make progress this year. I've done a lot of work with my engineer in the last few weeks and I feel that I am continuing to make steady progress. I can't wait to go to Spain now to finish the season in style!”
So just how special a result is it?
“In a way I feel like I have won my first rally,” Mikko added. “Also, it is just the fact I have been five times second here, which means it is really good to finally win it. I knew that we could do it [after we ended day two with such a big lead]. But you still have to finish all the stages and okay, we just took it steady [on Saturday and today].
“We spoke with the team and the mechanics before the rally and we said, 'This is going to be my first rally for 2013'. That has started well and now we just have to keep it like this for next year.”
Citroen team principal Yves Matton meanwhile added it was 'immensely pleasing' to see Hirvonen finally win, especially after he lost the victory in Portugal back in February due to technical irregularities. Matton also added that wasn't an easy win, despite the early exit of Loeb and the day two retirements for Ford works pair, Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg.
“This first win for Mikko and Jarmo [Lehtinen, his co-driver] with Citroen was one of our goals for the end of the season. We felt that we owed them something after the Rally de Portugal and so it's immensely pleasing to see them win here," Matton continued.
“This result wasn't served up for them on a plate. They had to adopt a very high level of performance from the very start and the other leading crews made mistakes when fighting with them for the lead. The last few days have been long and testing; we also had to contend with one of the season's most difficult courses.
“After winning the Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles at the Rallye de France earlier this month, we have now added the final feather to our cap with the World Championship runner-up spot for Mikko. There's only one more step for him to take in his career and we'll be trying very hard to help him achieve that in 2013!” Matton concluded.