Mikko Hirvonen is a Finnish rally driver who participated in 163 WRC rallies between 2002 and 2014, scoring 15 victories and 69 podiums, so he is among the most successful rally drivers in a history who didn't win WRC title.
The main reason was that Hirvonen was mostly active in the period when Sebastien Loeb captured nine consecutive world titles, so Hirvonen didn't manage to win any title and he was the runner-up four times (in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012). In 2006 and 2007, Hirvonen won manufacturers' WRC titles with Ford and one more manufacturers' title with Citroen in 2012.
In 2015, Hirvonen started his new career in the cross-country rallying. In January 2016, he debuted at Dakar Rally, driving Mini All4 Racing for X-Raid Team and finishing fourth, being the best rookie. This is his best Dakar Rally result so far.
Mikko Hirvonen started rallying at the age 18
Mikko Hirvonen was born on July 31, 1980, in Kannonkoski, Finland. As the most Finns have a rallying in their blood, Mikko also started to race immediately after he gets a driving license, at the age of 18. His first event was the Laihia Rally at the wheel of his cousin's Open Kadett alongside his cousin. In the following two seasons, he competed with his cousin and his sister as co-drivers. In 2000 and 2001, Mikko was driving Opel Astra GSi in the national Finnish championship, finishing second in the N2 class in 2001 season.
During 2002, Hirvonen participated in more than 20 events, mostly in Finland and Italy, as the part of the development programme for his future WRC career. He competed with eight different cars and three co-drivers, including Jarmo Lehtinen, who became his longstanding partner for the whole career.
Mikko's WRC debut at 2002 Rally Finland
In the 2002 Finnish championship, Hirvonen was driving Volkswagen Golf Kit Car alongside Miikka Anttila, scoring few class wins and taking the class title. In August, Hirvonen and Anttila participated in Neste Rally Finland. In his WRC debut, Hirvonen was driving Renault Clio S1600 and he won the A6 class, finishing 21st overall. One more WRC with Renault attempt followed in September at Rallye Sanremo, but Hirvonen didn't finish the race.
Mikko scored his first international victory in October at Rally Internazionale Prealpi Trevigiane in Italy, where he was driving Subaru Impreza S7 WRC01. With the older generation Impreza WRC (S6) he won Dee Jays Cambrian Rally, which was the preparation event for his participation at 2002 Rally GB, the last round of the World Rally Championship. Hirvonen retired due to mechanical issues.
Hirvonen joined Ford for his first full WRC season
In 2003, Mikko became a member of Ford's factory WRC team, as a third driver of Ford Focus RS WRC 02 alongside Markko Martin and Francois Duval. In fourteen rallies, Hirvonen's best result was sixth place at Cyprus Rally. With three points he gets for that result, Hirvonen finished 16th in the WRC classification.
2004 season with Subaru and Solberg
For 2004 season Mikko moved to the Subaru World Rally Team to participate a full WRC programme alongside defending world champion Petter Solberg. They started the season with old Subaru Impreza S9 WRC 03 but switched to the new generation Impreza from third round in Mexico. Solberg finished second in the championship, behind Sebastien Loeb, for whom it was his first world title. Hirvonen finished seventh in the championship order, with fourth place at Rally Argentina and Rally Australia as the best results.
The 2005 season as a privateer
In 2005, Mikko had no team and he participated in four WRC events with privately-entered Ford Focus RS WRC 03. At Rally Catalunya, the penultimate round of the championship, he scored his maiden WRC podium, finishing third behind Citroen drivers Loeb and Duval. During the season, he had a chance to drive BP Ford World Rally Team's Focus RS WRC 04 at Rally Finland (5th place) and Škoda Motorsport's Fabia WRC at Rally Japan (DNF).
Mikko scored maiden WRC win at 2006 Rally Australia
For 2006 season, Mikko was invited to return to the Ford factory team, to drive alongside Marcus Gronholm. In first six events, he was far from the top, finishing best in the fourth place at Corsica and retiring in Argentina. And then, the streak of eight podiums in nine races followed, including Mikko's maiden WRC victory at Rally Australia in October. Good results secured him third place in the championship, behind teammate Gronholm, who lost the championship battle with one point gap behind Loeb. Ford was at least took manufacturers' title.
In 2007, the championship order was the same as the year before (Loeb-Gronholm-Hirvonen) and Ford was again the manufacturers' champion, but this time Mikko managed to win three times. He was the winner in Norway, Japan and Great Britain. Except three wins, he scored seven more podiums.
Mikko was the WRC runner-up two years in a row
In 2008, Hirvonen was the championship runner-up for the first time in a career. As number 1 Ford's driver, he won three times (in Jordan, Turkey and Japan) and added eight more podiums, to collect 19 points less than Loeb.
The best season of a career followed in 2009. Mikko scored four consecutive wins at Greece, Poland, Finland and Australia. His fight for the championship against Sebastien Loeb went down to the last round, the Wales Rally GB. Mikko had one point advantage before the event, but Loeb won the rally and Hirvonen lost the title by one single point.
Victory at 2010 Rallye Monte-Carlo
The season 2010 started with Hirvonen's first victory at Rallye Monte-Carlo, which was the part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. Hirvonen was driving M-Sport's Ford Fiesta S2000. In the World Rally Championship, the car was Ford Focus RS WRC 09. Hirvonen won the season-opening Rally Sweden, but it remained his only WRC win in 2010. He finished sixth in the points. During the year, he participated in one more non-championship event, winning the Serbia Rally, which was the preparation event for the WRC round in Bulgaria.
Championship runner-up one more time
In 2011 WRC season, Ford switched to Fiesta RS WRC. In the same time, Citroen replaced C4 with DS3 WRC and the French manufacturer again won both titles. Mikko again won the season-opening event in Sweden. Later in the season, he won one more time in Australia. Loeb and Hirvonen entered the last round of the championship with 8 points advantage of Loeb. Both drivers retired at Wales Rally GB, so Loeb claimed his eighth consecutive title while Hirvonen was the runner-up for the third time in a career.
One season alongside Sebastien Loeb
In 2012, Loeb and Hirvonen became the teammates in the Citroen Total World Rally Team. Hirvonen's only WRC win was at Rally Sardegna. With nine more podiums, he finished second in the championship points, again behind Loeb. Citroen took the manufacturers' title, so Hirvonen at least gets that trophy. The victory at Sardinia turned to be his last WRC win in a career. During 2012, he won two non-championship events as a preparation for WRC rallies, Rally Finnskog in Norway and Rally Vosgien in France.
Citroen's no.1 driver in 2013
In 2013, Loeb stepped out of full championship arrangement so Hirvonen became the main Citroen's driver. It was the first season of Volkswagen Motorsport's participation and the German manufacturer took both titles. Mikko finished fourth in the points, scoring five podiums. He was second in Portugal and Mexico, third in Germany, Australia and Spain.
Rally retirement after one more season with Ford
Hirvonen returned to Ford in 2014, to finish his WRC career with the team he started eleven years before. He finished second at Rally Portugal and then ran without podiums in the following seven events. He took two more podiums in the last two round of the championship, finishing third in Spain and second in Wales.
The podium in his last WRC event was his 69th WRC podium in a career. With 15 wins, that number put him among the most successful rally drivers in the history of rallying who didn't win the championship.
Sensational fourth place at 2016 Dakar Rally
Hirvonen's retirement from WRC doesn't mean that he would retire from racing. He even intensified his activities with historic cars, driving Ford Escort RS 1800 MkII in some national events. Hirvonen joined X-Raid Team and during 2015 he had preparations for his debut at 2016 Dakar Rally. Hirvonen's result in his debut at the world's toughest race was delightful, as he finished fourth overall with Mini All4 Racing, even scoring one stage win.
At 2017 Dakar Rally, he was driving the all-new Mini John Cooper Works Rally, being among front-runners until he collided with a truck, so at the end he finished 13th. At 2018 Dakar Rally, he had a new car again, the Mini John Cooper Works Buggy, finishing in 19th place.