Mikko Hirvonen is looking forward to driving in his home rally at the end of the month.
Mikko Hirvonen is looking forward to driving in his home rally at the end of the month.

Set for a very quick Finnish

FINNISH hero Mikko Hirvonen reckons this year’s Neste Oil Rally Finland will be one of the closest yet – and expects several privateers from Finland to spring a surprise on the world championship qualifier.

The high-speed gravel rally, which is based in Jyvaskyla in a fortnight’s time boasts the strongest entry of the season with 124 cars – and the highest number of latest generation World Rally cars so far this year, 21.

Beyond the usual factory machines, which include the Ford Fiesta RS WRCs of Hirvonen and his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, drivers like Jari Ketomaa, Janne Tuohino (both in Fiesta RS WRCs) and Matti Rantanen in a MINI John Cooper Works WRC are also expected to figure strongly.

“These boys can be quick,” Hirvonen said.

“Both Jari and Janne have had good results in the past and they will be in there fighting but (Matti) Rantanen is a really interesting entry.

“He has gone really fast before and if he gets another good result this time, then he’s still definitely young enough to get some interest from a manufacturer for the future.”

Hirvonen admitted he was counting the days before the start of his home round of the series.

“It’s the summer in Finland and you can feel the anticipation coming for the rally,” he said.

“It’s so exciting, I love this time.

"I can’t wait to get started to be honest.”

The 30-year-old will be keen to eclipse the memory of his monstrous crash on last year’s rally - preferring to remember his victory on the 2009 event instead.

“It’s going to be a big fight, like always,” he said.

“The entry for this year is definitely one of the strongest in recent years.

“It’s not quite the same as when I started out and I was competing against the likes of Tommi (Makinen) and Colin (McRae) but the championship is definitely coming back, you can feel that and see it from the entry list for Finland.”

A field of similar strength is expected to converge on the Coffs Coast when the 10th round of this year’s World Rally Championship hits town from September 8 to 11.