Mikko Hirvonen Monte Carlo Rally 2012 Gepa Pictures/McKlein/Red Bull Content Pool

Flying Finn Mikko Hirvonen knows a thing or two about how to win Rally Sweden: he’s done it for the last two years after all. But this year, Hirvonen has a new challenge as he joins the Red Bull-backed Citroen team – with none other than eight-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb as his team mate. Here is Mikko’s guide to coming out on top in Sweden. As they say in Helsinki, to finish first, first you have to be Finnish…

1. Soak up the pressure
“The problem with winning the rally for the last two years is that everyone expects you to win again. Of course I expect to be fighting for victory too, but I have to remember as well that it is only my second event in the car and I still have plenty to learn. You can’t control the expectation that people put onto you, but you can control how to react to it.”

2. Be prepared
“Sweden is a specialised event and the more testing you have the better it is. Before this event we did a really good test and then we also did a small rally in Norway – the Finnskog Rally – last week, which I won. This means that I head into the Rally Sweden this weekend with a really good feeling and plenty of confidence with the car.”  

nullMikko Hirvonen at the 2012 Rally Finnskog
   

3. Rob the bank
Not literally – Mikko means the snowbanks that line the stages. Drivers use these as ‘cushions’ to help keep their car on the road through corners at high speed. Only problem is that this year it hasn’t snowed much and so there aren’t any. “That makes it really tricky as you can’t make any mistakes,” says Mikko. “When there are big snowbanks, you can make a mistake and get away with it because the snowbanks are there save you. Without the snowbanks, it’s probably the tree that saves you…”

4. Wrap up warm
With temperatures that dipped to minus 31 degrees centigrade during the recce earlier this week, keeping warm is a priority. Some teams fit extra heaters to their cars, while some drivers rely on personal heating gadgets such as battery-powered socks. Snow joke (sorry).

5. What a stud
There are 380 studs in Mikko’s snow tyres, which poke out by seven millimetres. These allow the Citroen to ‘bite’ through the surface snow into the solid ground underneath. However, if there isn’t a good snow cover, then mud and gravel can rip the studs out of the tyre – and suddenly drivers are left with no grip in the slippery sections. “Looking after the tyres is really important,” says Mikko. “If you pull out all your studs, then you’re a passenger: it’s the worst thing you can do.”

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    null21/04/2010