Subaru Tecnica International [STI] announced today that Mikko Hirvonen will join the 555 Subaru World Rally Team in 2004 - replacing the unwell Richard Burns.

With 2003 FIA World Rally Champion Petter Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills already contracted to the team, the announcement finalises Subaru's 2004 driver line up.

The 23-year-old Finn will continue his partnership with Finnish co-driver, Jarmo Lehtinen.

Subaru's decision to sign the Finn was driven by a commitment to its long-term, young driver development philosophy. Having helped nurture the careers of World Rally Champions Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg, who all joined the team with limited experience of the World Rally Championship, the Japanese marque has established a strong reputation for developing new and promising talent.

"We're very excited to have signed Mikko. He's a very talented young driver and we have the resources to provide him with the best car and team to help him develop his full potential," team principal David Lapworth commented. "We've been following the progress of many young drivers and we hope this is the first of a number of initiatives with which Subaru will be involved in 2004."

Hirvonen added: "This is such a fantastic opportunity for me and I'm delighted I'm going to be driving for the team next year. There's so much that I want to achieve as a driver in the WRC and I know Subaru's the team to help me do that. I just can't wait to get in the car and get going!"

Born in 1980, Hirvonen has quickly established himself as a promising star of the future. Finishing in the points in 2003, his first year as a works WRC driver [he was sixth in Greece], Hirvonen has already tasted Subaru success having taking three wins in a Group N Impreza WRX in the 2002 Italian Gravel Trophy Series. In the same year he also contested two international rally events in an Impreza, winning both.

Beginning his season at Rallye Monte Carlo in January, Hirvonen will start the 2004 Championship in the same specification Impreza as Petter Solberg [the Subaru Impreza WRC2003]. The Impreza WRC2004 is expected to make its debut on the third round of the 2004 Championship, Rally Mexico.

New for 2004 meanwhile, Toshiya Azuma, SWRT project general manager at STi is set to become more involved in team management, taking on the additional role of manufacturer principal / marketing director.

In recent years, STi has increasingly promoted the links between the Japanese-based Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. and the Subaru World Rally Team in the UK. This new role reflects Subaru's ongoing commitment to the World Rally Championship and a determination to continue to develop the connection between the World Rally Car and Subaru's mass production road cars.

On the team side, David Lapworth continues as team principal, with Luis Moya as sporting director.



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