Wilson looks ahead with Hope for Hirvonen
BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team boss, Malcolm Wilson, was surprised to find his team in the lead for both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championships at the midway mark of the 2008 season. His initial thoughts had been that his drivers would be better in the second half of the season as the rallies of offer then were more suited to their driving style.
As the season enters a six week long summer break, BP-Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen is at the top of the Drivers’ standings with a narrow three point lead over four-time defending champion, Sebastien Loeb. In the Manufacturers’ standings, Ford, who are defending their title, lead the Citroen Total World Rally team by 9 points.
Wilson says that his choice of using two relatively young drivers, Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala could have, in all likelhood, made the first half of the year difficult. “When we made the decision to run with the two youngsters we knew we had to be realistic. Put it this way - I didn’t expect to be leading the championship at the halfway point,” said Wilson. “I always felt that the guys would perform better in the second half. But now, after such a confidence boost for them both in Turkey, I think they’ll actually deliver even stronger performances from Finland onwards.”
Hirvonen had aced the second half of the season in last season’s championships with wins at Japan and in the Wales Rally GB. He also finished really close to Marcus Gronholm in Finland but this time ‘round, things are different. He will have the unenviable task of having to hold back Sebastien Loeb if he wants to keep hold of the Championship lead. Last year, Loeb’s victories at the remaining three asphalt rounds of Germany, Spain and France means that there are dark clouds above Hirvonen’s title chances.
“I know we’ve got three tarmac rallies, it’s going to be difficult, but I know that Mikko and Jari-Matti are determined to improve their tarmac driving as anything else,” said Wilson. “I’m hoping maybe we can spring the odd surprise on the tarmac; we’ll have to wait and see.”
Despite the obvious looming presence of Loeb’s thunderous performances on asphalt, Wilson believes that Hirvonen can take the drivers’ title this year. “There’s every reason to think he can do it,” said Wilson. “He was very close to Marcus when he won Finland, he won Japan, he won GB, so the only gravel one he hasn’t won is New Zealand. But that’s a rally he likes very much and I have a feeling that this year, after his performance in Turkey, his driving will be at another level.”
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