New WRC Season sees Finnish Star Chasing Maiden Drivers’ Title Team-mate Al Qassimi Tipped to Maintain Progress
As he finalises his preparations for Rally Ireland - the opening round of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship season - BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen believes he and arch Citroen rival, Sebastien Loeb, will once again be embroiled in a fierce battle for title honours this year.
And after spending the New Year in Abu Dhabi as a guest of BP-Ford Abu Dhabi sponsor, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, the 27-year-old Finn revealed he is determined to win his maiden drivers’ championship and reclaim manufacturers’ honours for the ADTA-supported rally outfit.
“We will try even harder this year,” said Hirvonen. “It’s a real shame we missed out on the titles in 2008 but that disappointment will spur us on even harder this season.
“We are a really young team and if everything goes well, we will have a good chance for both titles. I know that we can do it this year and we have a really strong chance,” he added.
During his stay at Abu Dhabi’s signature Emirates Palace Hotel, Hirvonen caught up with his BP-Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate, Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, and the young Finn said the Emirati’s WRC exploits are winning hearts and minds at the sport’s highest level.
“Khalid is a very mature driver and he is definitely progressing. He is a calm driver and knows not to push too hard like some of the new guys – it prevents him from making big mistakes on the course,” added Hirvonen.
“The problem for Khalid is that he is competing in the races but logistically he can’t always attend the pre-rally testing. We’ve been testing all week to acclimatise for Ireland and Khalid’s been rallying in Qatar - it makes it a lot harder for him to get fast times on the day. When I started I was a second driver and testing was a very important part of my learning – it’s where you gain experience.”
Hirvonen also has kind words for BP-Ford Abu Dhabi sponsors ADTA, saying its involvement in the sport at such a challenging time in motor-sport history has earned the UAE capital many friends in the WRC.
“It has certainly brought more interest in and exposure to the team and that’s very important for the championship. Partners like Abu Dhabi are essential to the sport and hopefully its involvement will encourage more organisations to follow suit.”
And if Hirvonen had his way, Abu Dhabi – the Championship’s ‘Official Destination’ – would soon receive a round in the shortened 12-event WRC calendar all of its own.
“The idea of the WRC is to test drivers on various surfaces in many of the world’s countries. Having a desert stage in Abu Dhabi would make the season very interesting. I’m sure Abu Dhabi would really bring something different to the WRC and would be a challenge the drivers would relish - I think it would be widely welcomed,” he said.
First up for BP-Ford Abu Dhabi tough is Rally Ireland, which runs from January 30th to February 1st in the Emerald Isle’s North Western area of County Sligo.
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