Title: World Rally driver
Residence: Jyväskylä, Finland
Marital status: Engaged to Karoliina
First rally: 1998
First world rally: 2002 Rally Finland
World rallies started: 85
World rally wins: 7
Last year Mikko Hirvonen mounted a sustained challenge for the drivers' title. Victories in Jordan, Turkey and Japan weren't quite enough, however, as he claimed the runners-up spot in the championship.
It would be fair to say that rallying is in Hirvonen’s blood, as his earliest memory is sitting on his father's knee learning to drive a rally car on a frozen lake beside his house. Determined and realistic, the young Finn decided the best way to learn to drive was in a front-wheel drive vehicle. So, in 1998, he bought a two-litre Opel Kadett. With his cousin navigating, he entered his first rally and despite going off the road twice, a delighted Hirvonen crossed the finish line.
During the next two years his rally activities became a family affair, with his cousin and sister sharing the co-driver's seat and other family members helping with the running of the car. In 2000 Hirvonen felt ready to take on a new challenge
—the junior Finnish Championship. Open to Group N front-wheel drive cars, he upgraded to an Opel Astra and finished seventh out of 20 competitors.
He set his sights on the ‘01 Finnish Championship in a rebuilt Astra. Hirvonen faced his first full year with the prospect of using pacenotes for the first time and enlisted Sirpa Jokinen as co-driver. Hirvonen's true talent showed through and he led the championship until the last day of the last round when he hit a rock, relegating him to second.
He then set himself a 12-month development programme under the guidance of Timo Jouhki, with the aim of competing in the ‘03 FIA World Rally Championship. Hirvonen competed in more than 20 rallies in ‘02 to gain the experience that would help him achieve this goal. Partnered by Miikka Anttila, he tackled the Finnish Championship and won the F2 category in a VW Golf Kit Car. The pair also competed in some Italian asphalt rallies in a Citroen Saxo Kit Car as Hirvonen was determined to gain experience on that surface. He also contested part of the Italian Subaru Trophy Championship with Jarmo Lehtinen and three rounds of the WRC.
His hard work paid off, and in ‘03 he found himself at the wheel of a 2002 Focus RS contesting a full 14-round WRC programme. Sixth on the Cyprus Rally was his best result. In 2004 he joined the Subaru World Rally Team, gaining further valuable experience on all 16 events of the championship. His best results came on Rally Argentina and Rally Australia with fourth overall.
In ‘05 he drove five events in a privately-entered Focus RS and one with the factory Skoda team. He excelled in the Focus RS, with three top six finishes, including a career-best third on Rally Catalunya. He joined the BP-Ford line-up for ‘06, playing a crucial role in the team's manufacturers' world title success. After a string of podium finishes during the second half of the season, Hirvonen claimed his maiden WRC victory in Australia.
In ‘07, Hirvonen added victories in Norway, Japan and Great Britain as he finished third in the drivers' championship and helped Ford claim its second consecutive manufacturers' title.