Mikko Hirvonen is a man of fast rally experience gained from a successful career in WRC. After officially retiring, he took up the X-raid offer to test and then race the iconic MINI ALL4 Racing. In less than two seasons he has delivered key results in the FIA World Cup and taken on the mighty Dakar Rally in 2016, where he finished fourth and achieved “Best Rookie” status. Armed with the new MINI John Cooper Works Rally and partnered once again with co-pilot Michel Périn, Finnish-born Hirvonen is keen to secure the 2017 Dakar Rally.
MINI: Based on your first Dakar Rally last year and World Cup experience, what makes a winning team?
MH: The car is very important. All the people around are very important parts of the team. But none of us, not the car or the driver, can win Dakar alone. It’s a big team effort which starts at the end of last Dakar. At the end of the day, it’s really hard work with all the preparation during the year. With some luck on your side, too, this can help us into victory.
MINI: I bet you can’t wait to drive the new MINI John Cooper Works Rally at Dakar. What are your thoughts of the new car after recent tests?
MH: This is true. Dakar was a year ago so I can’t wait to start this challenge again. Of course, the team has been working really hard with the new car and made a lot of improvements in different areas – working on the aerodynamics, brake distribution and more. I’ve been doing a lot of work on the set-up as well to change the car a little more to suit my style of driving. So yes, I really can’t wait to get behind the wheel of the MINI John Cooper Works Rally at Dakar to see what we’ve been able to do.
MINI: Yet again you have the experienced Michel Périn at your side. Would you say familiarity breeds greater trust and faith in your crew partner?
MH: For sure after our first Dakar, where I learned a lot from him, we have done more races together and understand and work even closer together. Of course, it’s a lot easier to start our second Dakar together.
MINI: You have had one year to reflect on your first Dakar Rally. Is there anything that you will do differently this year? Preparation, driving style… anything?
MH: I think we have done a lot of work since then. After some experience for myself, I’ve been able to work on the car and I have been building the suspension a bit more to my way of driving. That will already help. It sounds like Dakar this year is going to be a lot more challenging because last year they had to change the route in the last minute. There will be more off-road sections this year, but we have done couple of races to be prepared for it. Nothing still beats the experience from the Dakar itself so we just need to be humble and concentrate really hard for each day.
MINI: How does the thought of even more time at altitude for Dakar 2017 grab you?
MH: I don’t mind about that. I felt really good about it last year, but now this year we will have some dune sections in high altitude, which I haven’t done before. This will be a new thing and there hasn’t been really any way to test in these conditions. That will be exciting to see what it’s going to be like. So after the race, I wanted to come back, but I wanted to have a bigger challenge. Maybe I should be careful what I wish for, but I’m ready for it.
MINI: What does it mean to you to be part of the MINI Family – that is the family of crews and X-raid staff?
MH: I’m really happy to be part of and work with the MINI Family. They have taken me very well in to the team and made me feel really welcome. We are all working towards the same goal and it’s such an experienced and successful team that I’m proud of being part of it.