Motorsport: Hirvonen confident of first Kiwi win

By Eric Thompson

The three top contenders to take out the Brother Rally New Zealand round of the World Rally Championship, on paper at least, also finished in the top three at the last round of the series in Greece.

On that occasion Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena kept Citroen teammate Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen at bay by 40 seconds with Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikka Anttila taking the last spot on the podium.

Hirvonen will be very keen to get one over his two main antagonists this year at the Kiwi event, as of the trio he's the only one not have a New Zealand trophy on his mantlepiece at home.

Loeb's won twice and Latvala, Hirvonen's former teammate, is the defending champion from 2010. Hirvonen was well in contention last time he took to the North Island gravel roads but crashed in the last stage, ruling out any chance of a win.

The Finn has been probably the most consistent, other than Loeb, of course, over the past six seasons and arrives in New Zealand sitting second in the championship, fully focused on closing the 30-point gap to his teammate.

Hirvonen is quietly confident his time may have come on the fast, flowing gravel roads of New Zealand.

"I like racing here in New Zealand. The roads are some of the best in the world," said Hirvonen. "I have good memories from previous years and it's always gone very well here, well, for the most, anyway.

"The New Zealand round has always been a really nice rally and the roads are fantastic and the people are really great.

"It's one of the best rallies stagewise that there is.

"I've come so close to winning in New Zealand in the past that I definitely want to get the title this time. Sure you want to win all the rallies but the New Zealand one is the one I'd like. As you said, in the past something always went wrong."

This could be the year Hirvonen gets his wish. He's switched to Citroen for 2012 and has finished second to his new teammate Loeb four times. The only time Hirvonen hasn't finished in the top five this season is the DNF he suffered in Portugal along with Loeb.

He's second in the title hunt behind fellow Citroen driver Loeb and nine points ahead of Mads Ostberg.

Changing teams is a hard thing to do in any sport, but Hirvonen's record so far this year proves he's taken to his new environment well.

"It's been good [changing teams] and I really enjoy it. For sure it was hard to leave Ford and all my friends, but I felt I needed a change.

"It was also a great opportunity for me to get into a team that I could see has done well. It's been really exciting so far."

While WRC rally cars have a lot in common, there are small nuances with engines and chassis that make switching manufacturers a chore in itself - especially when it comes to driving the beasts at speed.

"There are differences for sure between the Ford and the Citroen. When I first drove the car [Citroen], it felt like the Ford was a bit more stable at high speed. However, the Citroen was easier to drive through the low speed stuff.

"The manufacturers have a different idea about how they build the rally car, like the suspension, the geometry and the weight distribution. Everything's a bit different but there's a lot of stuff I can bring from Ford to help the car work better at high speed.

"I also need to know and learn how the Citroen works at low speed," said Hirvonen.

Now that the two, on current form, best rally drivers are in the same team it would be fair to say Citroen is odds on to win the manufacturer's title.

However, with seven rounds to go, including the New Zealand adventure, it's eminently possible Hirvonen may get the wood on his illustrious teammate and grab his first world title.

"We've been performing really strongly so far this year and hopefully after New Zealand I can reduce the point's gap between me and Seb a little bit. That's what I'm hoping do.

"It's still a long way to go in the season but the dream is to beat Seb and win my first championship. There are so many new things to learn at the moment in the new team that I'm just happy to take it rally by rally and see what happens," said Hirvonen.

He is under no illusion that it's going to be a hard ask to get one over Loeb, but to be in the same machinery may just be what the Finn needs to grab the title.



8.00am Free practice

10.33am Qualifying Stage - Inland Road (5.06km)

5.30pm FIA Pre-Event Press Conference (Media Centre)

7.00pm Choice of starting positions for the first two stages


6.00am Start

8.28am SS1 - Te Hutewai 1 (11.18km)

8.51am SS2 - Brother Whaanga Coast 1 (29.67km)

10.24am SS3 - Te Akau South 1 (31.82km)

11.07am SS4 - Te Akau North 1 (32.13km)

1.07pm Remote Service A - Raglan (15 min)

1.33pm SS5 - Te Hutewai 2 (11.18km)

1.56pm SS6 - Brother Whaanga Coast 2 (29.67km)

3.29pm SS7 - Te Akau South 2 (31.82km)

4.12pm SS8 - Te Akau North 2 (32.13km)

6.45pm Service Park B - Viaduct Events Centre (45 min)


7.10am Service Park C - Viaduct Events Centre (45 min)

9.13am SS9 - Batley (17.61km)

10.01am SS10 - Brother Mititai 1 (23.22km)

10.34am SS11 - Girls High School 1 (26.99km)

12.29pm Remote Service D - Whangarei (15 min)

2.02pm SS12 - Whaipu Gorge (11.38km)

2.25pm SS13 - Brooks (13.60km)

3.08pm SS14 - Brother Mititai 2 (23.22km)

3.41pm SS15 - Girls High School 2 (26.99km)

7.03pm Service Park E - Viaduct Events Centre (45 min)


6.40am Service Park F - Viaduct Events Centre (15 min)

8.08am SS16 - Burnside/Wech Access 1 (7.30km)

8.26am SS17 - Brother Puhoi 1 (17.94km)

9.44am SS18 - SSS Auckland Domain 1 (2.05km)

10.34am Service Park G - Viaduct Events Centre (30 min)

11.28am SS19 - SSS Auckland Domain 2 (2.05km)

12.36pm SS20 - Brother Puhoi 2 (17.94km)

1.09pm SS21 - Auckland Conventions Ahuroa (6.75km)

1.40pm SS22 - Burnside/Wech Access 2 (Power Stage) (7.30km)

2.53pm Service Park H - Viaduct Events Centre (10 min)

3.30pm Podium

4.15pm FIA Post-Event Press Conference (Media Centre)

- Hamilton News

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