The news that Mikko Hirvonen has been chosen to join the Subaru World Rally Team marks a stunning hat-trick for the coaching methods of Pentti Airikkala.

Hirvonen will be joined in the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship by two of Penttis youngest pupils, Jarri-Matti Latvala of Finland and Conrad Rautenbach of Zimbabwe, both of whom will drive Ford's all-new Fiesta rally car in the Junior World Rally Championship.

Hirvonen came to prominence in top-class rallying soon after he invested in a series of individual coaching sessions with Pentti, who taught him the very latest driving techniques, the best pacenote system and gave him lessons on how best to set up various different cars [this was before Mikko knew which team he would drive for in 2004].

Latvala and Rautenbach are two more recent graduates of Airikkalas school. During 2004, Latvala will be run by the Italian Astra Racing team, while Rautenbach will be looked after by the UK-based Chris Birkbeck Rallysport. Both drivers are expected to give the Fiesta its debut on the second round of the Junior championship, in Greece in June, following the cars homologation on 1 March. They will use the 2003-specification Puma for this month's Monte Carlo Rally.

Latvala has contested a mixture of rallies in the World, British and Italian Championships, notably winning the final round of the 2003 British series. Rautenbach easily won the 1600 Cup in the 2003 FIA African Rally Championship and has decided to cancel his plans to enter the 2004 British Championship and instead move straight up to the World series.

Airikkala commented: "There are two qualities which cannot be taught to motor sport drivers: a feel for the car, which requires a sensitive body, and an aggressive approach, which basically requires the driver to be a very bad loser. Luckily, these three had both those qualities and I was able to help with everything else.

"As a Finn, I am obviously pleased to see that two young Finns will be part of world rallying in the future. It makes me proud that I have been able to contribute something to that. Because of my loyalty to Finland, however, I prefer not to comment on which of the three drivers will actually be the fastest..."

Pentti has now coached over 4,000 race and rally drivers, including - so far - 52 national champions and several famous international stars from all over the world. Quite apart from his own successful career as a rally driver (British, Finnish and Scandinavian Champion; World Championship rally winner), he is widely known throughout motor sport as the king of left-foot braking.

 

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