Day one of Rally Australia brought some very intense action but also forced many drivers to rethink their approach and dig deep to find the much needed control. Many drivers were surprised by the conditions and the levels of grip. One of the most common and somewhat amusing comments mentioned pace notes being too optimistic. Lack of grip led to lack of confidence and when these two are gone, so should be the speed if you hope to survive the day. Many pace notes were corrected, many braking points were missed, but luckily our grid is still largely intact.
One thing stood out, though. As drivers were complaining on the slippery surface and varying levels of grip and confidence, one guy was as calm and cool as one can possibly be while competing in the World Rally Championship event, driving a factory WRC car. Yes, once again we’re looking at Mikko Hirvonen. Same Mikko Hirvonen who, not long ago, was showing signs of pressure, radiating stress and lack of self confidence. Back then Mikko wasn’t joking at stage ends, he wasn’t so calm and collected when describing his driving. And then something happened. Suddenly our Mikko is no longer stressed, he is comfortable and confident, he’s relaxed and focused but most of all – he is fast!
Question is, what did happen? We’re unlikely to find out just like that. Perhaps time will tell. Did he secure his WRC future for next year and/or beyond? Did he reach an agreement with Citroën to be part of the team in 2014? Was he approached by Hyundai Motorsport and will join the new team when they launch WRC campaign next year? Perhaps his future is not within these two teams, but one of the other remaining two?
Maybe it’s not even about teams and future, although I believe it actually is. Perhaps Mikko just had a good and hard talk with himself, perhaps he defragmented his thoughts and reshuffled his priorities and found more inner strength and peace, converting energy into focus, confidence and speed?
It’s quite possible that the true reason is nothing of the above, but that’s not actually important. Mikko is fast and he is very relaxed about his performance and instead of talking about how bad things are, he is taking the positives out of things. Lining up many positives can just produce even more positives – Mikko’s doing it right I believe.
On the opposite side of the spectrum we again have Jari-Matti Latvala. Day 1 in Australia saw Jari-Matti sound like there is no hope in the world. No confidence at high speed sections, was the most repeated comment. Perhaps there is more work ahead for JML, because once confidence is dented, it takes some TLC to heal it. Or few hundred of testing kilometers, focusing on the weaknesses.
In the meantime, listen and watch Mikko closely, he’s got something up his sleeve. But what?