Hirvonen impresses on Impreza debut
The Subaru team's latest recruit, 23-year-old Mikko Hirvonen, got behind the wheel of an Impreza WRC2003 for the first time on Friday (19th) and quickly showed the sort of intuitive talent that has earned him a place in the team for 2004.
After driving more than 300kms up and down a 3.5km tarmac road near the French Alpine town of Gap, Mikko and the team's Principal Engineer, Pierre Genon were both pleasantly surprised at how quickly he'd adapted to the new car. By the end of the day Hirvonen was setting times not far behind those of his teammate and current World Champion Petter Solberg. "It was a quite a surprise," said Mikko. "I thought it would be much more difficult to get used to, but it seems the car is easy to drive, very stable and much smoother through the corners than I was expecting. I didn't expect to develop this good feeling quite so soon, so I'm very happy."
As most of his WRC experience has been gained driving a Ford Focus, Mikko and the rest of the team were anxious to see how he'd get on in the same version of the Impreza he'll be starting next year's Monte Carlo and Sweden rallies with. The day before taking the wheel himself, Mikko had benefited from a few hints and tips on driving the car from Petter. With Hirvonen strapped into the co-drivers seat, Petter turned tutor for a dozen passes through the test road, sharing suggestions on how to get the best from the car along the way via the helmet intercom.
"That was very useful, said Mikko. "He talked about the tyres and driving style, how he brakes, uses the diffs, that sort of thing. When we got to the end of the stage and had turned the car around we had a quick discussion about the trip, and away we went again. The main thing that I knew I'd need to adapt was my braking style on approaching corners. I'm used to braking very late and very hard, but the Impreza performs better with a more progressive and smooth approach to the corners. It was a very good experience, but I wouldn't say I enjoyed it too much - no matter who's driving, I still find sitting in the co-drivers seat pretty scary."
Early on Friday morning Mikko and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen set off on their first few solo runs. Pierre Genon said: "The day was mainly about familiarisation. We left the car with exactly the same set-up as Petter had used the day before and Mikko got in and did 100kms just to get a feel for it. The conditions on the road were quite muddy and slippery but he got to a good pace very quickly. In the afternoon we experimented with some very small set-up changes but concentrated mainly on evaluating some of the Pirelli tyres we'll be using in Monte Carlo. All in all it was a very good day."
Mikko tested again on Saturday, when he concentrated on trying the various Pirelli tyre options available for Monte Carlo. "We were driving a tarmac stage on studded snow tyres," said Mikko. "It's a position you can often find yourself in on the Monte Carlo rally, so it's a good idea to see just what's possible in those conditions."
Dustin Armstrong contributes and publishes news editorial to http://www.all-motorcycle-helmets.com.
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