Flying Finn Mikko Hirvonen says there’s still plenty of time to catch Sebastien Ogier in the hunt for the World Rally Championship this year.
Hirvonen will go into this weekend’s Rally de Portugal feeling confident after improving his Citroen DS3’s performance during a test on gravel tracks similar to those being used on the Algarve event.
In fact the whole Citroen team will arrive on a high after team-mate Dani Sordo won last weekend’s Fafe Rally Sprint held in the north of the country as a warm-up to Rally de Portugal.
Furthermore VW rival Ogier, who holds a commanding points lead after wins in Sweden and Mexico in his Polo R, was forced to miss the fun in Fafe after suddenly becoming poorly. He is expected to be fit for Rally de Portugal but his illness will have slightly set back his preparations.
Hirvonen is currently third in the drivers’ standings, some 44 points behind Ogier with a maximum of 28 available on each of the remaining ten events. And the Finn is adamant that he’s not given up on the title yet.
I want to fight for the lead in the early stages in Portugal
“No, of course not!” he insists. “It’s true that Sebastien Ogier has made a perfect start to the season, but there are still ten rallies left. Although we haven’t looked entirely convincing recently, we are going to do everything to improve our fortunes. That’s why I want to fight for the lead in the early stages in Portugal.”
He added: “In the five weeks since Mexico we obviously did work during specific testing for this rally. I can’t go into details about what we worked on, but the fact is that we have improved the set-up of the DS3 WRC. The car slides less and I felt more confident driving it. As ever, we must be cautious, because the conditions of the rally won’t necessarily be the same as those we had in testing.”
Hirvonen’s second place finish in Mexico behind Ogier was his best result so far in 2013. He hasn’t sprayed the victory champagne since Sardinia last October and knows that if he is to challenge for the win in Portugal he will have to be on the pace immediately. Indeed one of Ogier’s greatest strengths has been his speed on the opening stages which has left his rivals stunned.
Hirvonen will also be aware that Ogier has won twice before in Portugal and may feel there’s some unfinished business as well – last year he won the event on the road only to be stripped of victory because of a technical irregularity with his Citroen.
He continued: “To win this season we’ll need to have a perfect rally, starting with the qualifying stage. I only have one target this weekend: I want to be fighting for the lead from the very start.”