Ford signs Hirvonen to drive all-new Focus RS WRC
The BP-Ford World Rally Team has signed Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen to drive the all-new Focus RS World Rally Car in the FIA World Rally Championship. A three-year agreement will see the Finns joining fellow countrymen Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen in the BP-Ford World Rally Team from 2006.
Both pairs will drive the exciting new Focus RS WRC, which made its first appearance on this month's Rally Australia. Their debut in the car will be on January's Monte Carlo Rally, the opening round of the 2006 series.
This will be 25-year-old Hirvonen's second stint with Ford in the world championship. He made his breakthrough with the team in 2003, competing on all 14 rounds of the series as he gained vital experience of many rallies for the first time. After a year spent driving for another team, Hirvonen tackled six WRC events this year, the majority in a privately-entered 2003-specification Focus RS WRC.
He finished an outstanding third in the Rally Catalunya last month and fifth in Greece's Acropolis Rally, after leading on the opening day. Remarkably his performances were achieved in a car that was two years older than those of his rivals and against manufacturer-entered drivers. His efforts earned a call-up to Ford's official team for the Rally Finland, in which he finished fifth.
"Mikko's signing completes the BP-Ford World Rally Team's official line-up for the 2006 season," said Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito. "I believe the combination of Marcus, Mikko and the all-new Ford Focus RS WRC will be an ideal package for us. Both drivers will strengthen our WRC efforts and they join the team at a hugely exciting time for the Blue Oval. Ford has just completed its first season of a four-year commitment to the world championship, and the test and development programme of the new Focus RS WRC has exceeded our expectations to date.
"Ford has a realistic opportunity to reach the pinnacle of the sport and achieve victories with the new Focus RS WRC. By signing drivers of the calibre of Marcus and Mikko, we are making a clear statement of our intentions. We will use 2006 to further develop the new car in their hands, before a full-out bid for championship success in 2007 and 2008," added Capito.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said Hirvonen's signing was a major commitment. "We've signed Mikko on a three-year contract because we are looking for long-term consistency in our plans," he said. "Nobody can fail to be impressed by his performances this season. During the last three years he has gained the experience and maturity and is now ready to make the step up to the top level in the world championship. In 2006 I expect him to progress even further.
"He will benefit by having a driver of Marcus' calibre alongside. Marcus is one of the sport's fastest and most reliable drivers and his appetite for success remains as large now as it was at the start of his distinguished career. To have two such drivers committed for the long-term emphasises the belief they have in the new car, and it's a huge confidence boost for us all," he added.
Hirvonen, who lives in Jyvaskyla, host town for the Rally Finland, is delighted to rejoin his former team. "It's a dream come true to join Ford and have the opportunity to drive the new car," he said. "I've learned much in the last three seasons and feel ready to take on this role. The Focus RS is hugely promising and I can't wait to get behind the wheel to work again with my former colleagues."