Now confirmed at Ford for a WRC campaign in 2004, Markko Martin should be looking forward to another good season next year. caught up with a tired and weary Markko Martin on the last event of 2003 to discuss his season and the rally ahead of him.

So, how did Markko think his season had gone with the radical new for 2003 Ford Focus RS WRC?

"I think it's gone really well, better than I expected it to be, to be honest. We've won two famous and very hard rallies, which shows that I'm not that bad, I've been leading rallies, finishing on podiums and setting a lot of fastest times.

But at the same time having some reliability problems with the car which is probably the most sophisticated car in the championship, but with such a new car we knew that it was going to take time to sort the problems out, but that's the way the season has been, up and down, but in general I think it's been a very good season. I don't think that the more experienced drivers would have made a lot more out of it."

2003 was the year in which Markko lost his WRC win cherry, taking victory on the Acropolis Rally. Then later in the year he became a member of the very select club of non-Scandinavians to have won the Finland Rally.

So which victory was the most satisfying?

"Finland was special for me, because I was only the third non-Scandinavian to win there,?Eexplains Markko. It was very, very special and I had a lot of support from Estonia there as well. It was important to get a good result, because it's almost like my home event, it the closest I get to a home event, it's very nice."

It would be a bit of an understatement to say that Markko is a bit of a hero in his native Estonia. Estonia is probably not the most well known of countries and the category of front-running international Estonian sportsmen is not one that is oversubscribed.

"I'm definitely getting too much attention, but that's the way it is, what can we do??Easks Markko, who clearly would rather not have all the attention that comes with being a top level international sportman. "If you have grandmothers talking about tyre choices then it makes you wonder what's going on."

So with Tommi Makkinen making the 2003 season his last in the World Rally championship and Colin McRae looking like he's left and Carlos Sainz saying 2004 is probably his last year, is it a changing of the guard in the sport?

"It's definitely a change of generations I think. It's just, it always comes like that, life goes on and new people are coming on board and then some older ones have to leave; it's part of life I think.

One change of generation has happened this year I think."

When it comes to the day that Markko Martin decides to hang up his rally boots, what would he like to look back on in terms of achievements?

"I would like to win the world championship, once at least. Then I would be happy."

The other half of the combination in the car is Markko's co-driver since 2000, Michael Park. So, what's the relationship like between the Estonian and the Englishman?

"Ithink it's very good. I think Michael is a very, very professional co-driver, probably one of the best in the championship at the moment and he's a very nice guy so I don't have any problems with him," says Markko.

Mistakes made by co-drivers don't go down too well with drivers, and there's been some famous splits over the years when one mistake too many makes the relationship sour. Fortunately the relationship between Marrko and Michael looks to be strong heading into 2004.

"I can understand if when people make mistakes, because everybody makes mistakes," says Markko. "Nobody is perfect, as long as I know that everybody has done their best and that it's not going to happen again then it's no problem.

"I think drivers make mistakes as well, for sure, it is a lot more easy for a co-driver to control the mistakes than it is for the driver as we really have to go on a limit and it's just more difficult to be 100% sure - you can't double check a braking point before a corner - but you can check your check-in time."

With already a busy schedule, next year should be even busier for all those in the World Rally Championship, with new events scheduled for Japan and Mexico. Does Markko welcome these?

"I personally think it's nice to go to new countries and different places," he says optimistically, before adding, mindful of the cost-cutting measures being made elsewhere in the sport. "It just seems like at the moment that it's going to cost everybody a lot more money to do it. I thought the idea behind all the changes was to cut the costs but at the moment it's going the other way,"

But then, at the end of the day, a professional driver is going to drive as fast as he can no matter what the location. I don't mind where I'm driving, if the championship is competitive, and only if there are many manufacturers, that's what I would like to see and the rest is not important," concludes Markko.

In part two, what Markko really thinks about F1 drivers.