Rallying runs in the blood for most Finns and this sentiment rings true for Mikko Hirvonen whose earliest memory is sitting on his father’s knee learning to drive a rally car on a frozen lake.
Rallying, a family affair, 1998 – 1999
Born on 31 July 1980 in Kannonkoski, Mikko first carved a career in rallying at the age of 18 when he contested Laihia Rally at the wheel of an Open Kadett alongside his cousin. His passion for the sport was infectious and over the next two years Mikko competed in rallies with his cousin and even roped in his sister to help with the pacenotes.
Starting out, 2000 – 2001
In 2000, Mikko finished seventh in the Finnish Junior Championship in an Opel Astra but the following year, a determined Mikko moved up to compete a full programme in the Finnish Rally Championship. With Sirpa Jokinen in the co-driver’s seat, the duo led on their home championship until the final round where an incident forced them to settle for the runners-up spot.
The turning point, 2002 – 2003
But Mikko would not rest on his laurels until he reached his ultimate aim – to compete against the world’s best in the FIA World Rally Championship. In 2002 he set himself a 12-month development programme with the aim of entering a full WRC programme the following year. Throughout 2002, Mikko contested 20 rallies alongside two co-drivers in order to gain as much experience as possible before meeting the globe’s rallying elite.
2002 also marked the year that he teamed up with co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen – a working relationship which has now lasted more than a decade and has seen the duo collect 14 world rally wins. Mikko competed in the F2 category of the Finnish Championship where he took the victory whilst simultaneously gaining valuable experience competing in three WRC rounds as well as asphalt events in Italy.
The “Flying Finn” on the world stage, 2003 – 2011
In 2003, Mikko’s tenacity paid dividends as he entered a full programme in the WRC alongside Jarmo in a Ford Focus RS WRC. The young Finn showed promising talent in his first year behind the wheel of a World Rally Car and his best result was sixth at Cyprus Rally.
The following year, when Mikko was only 23, he moved to the Subaru World Rally Team to contest a full programme of 16 WRC events alongside factory team-mate Petter Solberg. His best results were fourth at Rally Argentina and Rally Australia.
In 2005, Mikko was back behind the wheel of a Ford as he piloted a privately-entered Ford Focus RS WRC for five events. He secured three top five finishes including a career-best third at Rally Catalunya.
Mikko’s raw talent behind the wheel had made him hot property and in 2006 he was invited to join the Ford factory team as a ‘works’ driver. The Finn went from strength to strength as he secured a string of podium finishes and ended the season on a high by claiming his maiden WRC victory in Australia. He also played a pivotal role in the team’s manufacturers’ world title success at the end of the 2006 season.
In 2007, Mikko continued his winning ways as he secured victories in Norway, Japan and Great Britain, finishing third in the drivers’ championship and helping Ford claim their second consecutive manufactures’ title. The following year, he claimed his first runners-up position after racking up victories in Jordan, Turkey and Japan.
The best season for Mikko was to follow as the Finn collected consecutive victories at Greece, Poland, Finland and Australia in 2009. A fight for the championship went down to the wire and Mikko missed out on the title by a single point from his rival and now current team-mate Sébastien Loeb.
Mikko drove his last season for Ford in 2011 where he claimed the first victory for the all-new Ford Fiesta RS WRC at Rally Sweden. His fight for the drivers’ title once again went down to the final round as he tried to fend off Loeb in a two-man duel at Rally Great Britain. A retirement, however, saw the Finn’s hopes dashed at his final event driving for the Ford factory team.
A new challenge awaits – 2012
A fresh challenge awaited Mikko ahead of the 2012 season as the three-time FIA World Rally Championship runner-up joined the Citrӧen World Rally Team alongside Loeb as a factory driver. Donning red instead of blue overalls for the first time since 2002, the Finn is set to shine as he takes to rally stages across the globe in his Citrӧen DS3 WRC.
2013 and beyond!
WRC legend Sebastien Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena welcomed Mikko into the French way of life at Citrӧen Racing. An intense testing and development programme saw Mikko acheive 10 podiums including one win on the Italian island of Sardinia in his debut season for the French brand alongside Jarmo. Their strong results enabling Citrӧen to win another Manufacturers’ title.
A second season for the French brand was quickly upon them. With Loeb and Elena stepping back from full-time involvement, the Finns are partnering the Spanish duo of Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio. 2013 is set to be a busy and exciting season!