One of the fastest Finns ever to set foot in a rally car has called time on his career.
Mikko Hirvonen, lead driver for the M-Sport World Rally Team, has decided to end his 13-year career in order to spend more time with his young family.
The 34-year-old Finn was the only driver capable of challenging Sebastien Loeb during the height of his dominance, coming within one point of taking the title in 2009 and pushing the dominant Frenchman right to the final round in 2011.
Hirvonen arrived on the World Rally scene driving a privately entered Ford Focus in 2002. He was picked up by the Ford factory team in 2003 before moving to Subaru in 2004. Despite consistent results, he was dropped for the 2005 season, but a podium placing as a privateer late in the season led to Ford re-hiring him to partner Marcus Gronholm for 2006.
He scored his first win in Australia that year, with our local roads being a happy hunting ground for Hirvonen, taking further victories in 2009 and 2011.
Following Gronholm’s retirement in 2007, Hirvonen was promoted to team leader and immediately flourished, scoring three wins and finishing second in the championship in 2008 before taking the title fight right to the wire in 2009.
A move to the all-conquering Citroen team in 2012 failed to produce the results expected, with two victories in 2012, one of which was subsequently taken away by disqualification, the highlights of his two-year tenure.
With one more rally to go in 2014, Hirvonen will tie Juha Kankkunen for fourth place on the all-time starts list with 162. He has won 15 of those (unless he wins next week’s Rally GB), while 67 podiums puts him fourth on the all-time list.
Hirvonen is expected to be replaced by Estonian young gun Ott Tanak.
To celebrate an incredible career and remember why he is one of the world’s best drivers, watch the footage above, featuring Hirvonen tackling the super-fast SS10 of Rally Finland 2013.
We're giving away the last great Aussie Holden V8! Enter here for your chance to win!
Get your free weekly report from the world of fast cars - subscribe to the MOTOR newsletter!