Tony Mason has said that BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen has really established himself as a top class driver in the World Rally Championship this season.

Hirvonen, who was given the team leader role for 2008 following Marcus Gronholm decision to retire, has been battling with Sebastien Loeb all year. While he trails the Frenchman now by eight points, going into this weekend's event in Spain and faces a difficult challenge to beat the Citroen man, Mason has still been extremely impressed by his form.

Indeed speaking exclusively to Radio at the Castle Combe Rallyday, the 1972 RAC winning co-driver added that there will be other chances.

"I have been talking to Mikko Hirvonen and I know him very well. He is a really nice, humorous and splendid young guy and I feel very sorry that he has sort of lost it. He has led the championship pretty much all the way through and he had really bad luck in New Zealand," Mason noted.

"He was very happily in the lead there and he had a puncture 11 kilometres from the end of the whole rally and Loeb was no-where to be seen really.

"There are four more events left now. Two are tarmac and there is no question Loeb is a faster driver on asphalt - although Mikko is improving and working hard at it. Then there are two forest rallies, one is in Japan and one is Wales Rally GB. I would love to see Mikko win them both.

"But basically the odds are stacked against him, which is a great pity unless Sebastien has a lot of problems - and he doesn't seem to be one of those guys that has major problems really.

"Loeb is a brilliant driver and is one of the greatest rally drivers of all time. But I do have my loyalties and being an ex-Ford competitor I am always supporting them and Mikko is the number one driver there.

"I'd love to see Mikko win it but he has got a slight uphill struggle - and he admits it. But Mikko is still very upbeat. However if he doesn't win it, he doesn't win it. He has tried hard and he has certainly established himself as a very top class driver this year."

As for Hirvonen's team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala, who has had a difficult run of late and who has been demoted to the Ford 'B' team for the asphalt events in Spain and Corsica, Mason has been impressed by him too.

"Jari-Matti Latvala has just been unbelievable. He is a very, very fast driver and a lot of these Finns are very fast drivers. He just needs taming a little bit," added Mason. "Everybody is trying to tame him somewhat but basically he only knows one speed.

"He is a great, great star coming up. He is only 21-years-old or something and Hirvonen is now 28. He thinks he is one of the old men in the game!

"But this young Jari-Matti is brilliant. But driving at those sorts of speeds you do crash a lot. That is what use to happen to Colin McRae. Over the years I have seen this happen a great deal, when Ari Vatanen and Hannu Mikkola came up on the scene and had problems, and they all said the same things.

"This one is the latest little fastest flying Finns and it is what you have got to expect. I think you will hear a lot more of him but he needs to try and get more good position finishes."




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