Photo: Mikko Hirvonen at 2013 Coates Rally Australia (Geoff Ridder pic)
(13/12/2013) MIKKO Hirvonen, Elfyn Evans and Robert Kubica will drive Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars on all 13 rounds of the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship.
The line-up was announced today, with M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson saying the combination of Hirvonen and Evans brought his team a mix of youth and experience, while Kubica’s backer LOTOS said the Pole was set to confirm his position amongst the top rally drivers in the world.
For Hirvonen, a three-time Rally Australia winner, the announcement marks a return to the squad behind 14 of his15 WRC victories. The Finn joined the then Ford factory team in 2003 and stayed for eight years, helping to secure Ford’s manufacturers’ titles in 2006 and 2007.
He fared less well after a switch to Citroen for 2012 and 2013, taking just one win, at Rally Italia Sardegna.
“It really feels as though I am coming home,” said Hirvonen, who will be co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen.
“The last two years were really good for myself and Jarmo, but although we will take a lot of good memories with us, we didn’t necessarily achieve what we set out to do.
“Joining M-Sport will give us a good chance to try again – a fresh start in a car we know we can be competitive in. We are motivated to win, and we are in the best possible place to do that.”
Representing the youth element of the team, 24-year old Evans will get his first full season in a world rally car.
Winner of the 2012 FIA WRC Academy Cup, the Welshman impressed in 2013 at the wheel of Fiesta RRC and R5 machinery in the WRC 2 category.
However, his stand-out performance came at Rally Italia Sardegna when, as a last minute substitute for Nasser Al Attiyah, he finished sixth on his debut in a world rally car.
“It is an absolutely fantastic feeling to know that I will be driving a world rally car for a full season next year,” said Evans, who will be co-driven by Daniel Barritt.
“Last year was a real development year for us, so it is great to be able to take the next step in my career and for myself and Dan to really progress within the team. The great thing about this programme is that it gives us time.”
Wilson said: “Mikko has done well here in the past and he provides us with the potential to battle for victories at a number of events throughout the year. We all know what he is capable of behind the wheel of a Fiesta, and he has lost none of his ambition and determination to win.
“I have no doubt that Elfyn is ready for this opportunity. Over the course of the season, he proved that he has both the mental strength and speed to learn whilst securing some very strong results. I am looking forward to seeing how he develops, and although we are not expecting him to challenge for any wins this season, his talent could certainly spring a few surprises.”
Kubica’s move to the outright WRC category follows some inspiring performances in 2013, including winning the WRC 2 championship in a Citroen DS3.
Having made his WRC world rally car debut at the season-closing round in Wales last month, Kubica is keen to develop and build on his experience at rallying’s highest league.
The global championship will bring a number of new experiences for the 29-year-old, including the deep-snow stages of Sweden and high-altitudes and soaring temperatures of the Americas.
Few drivers who possess the former Formula One driver’s desire to succeed and the WRC community should prepare for the coming of Kubica.
Grupa LOTOS chief Pawel Olechnowicz said: “A decisive victory for Robert in the WRC 2 class in 2013 confirmed his extraordinary talent and determination. We are very pleased that we can support such an excellent driver. Robert has consistently pursued further goals and does so with a passion that characterises only the greatest athletes. We believe that next year he will confirm his position amongst the top rally drivers in the world.”