Mikko Hirvonen says the World Rally Championship's major regulation change this year is the perfect opportunity for Ford to end Citroen's run of titles.
Speaking as he took the wraps off this year's Ford Fiesta WRC contender at the AUTOSPORT International motorsports show, a bullish Hirvonen said the brand-new cars could give Ford the edge after a run of seven straight championships for Citroen's lead driver Sebastien Loeb.
"Like we say every year, it's about time to take the crown away from him," said Hirvonen. "It's for them and for us a fresh start – it feels like we are all starting from scratch with completely new cars. I feel ready for it, so I'm excited to get started for Sweden – I wish we were there already."
The Finn believes Ford will be much tougher to beat in 2011 now that his teammate Jari-Matti Latvala has matured and is delivering more consistent speed. Latvala emerged as Ford's top driver last year, taking second in the championship while Hirvonen was only sixth.
"[Latvala] grew up a lot and this year we're going to have a very strong team against Citroen," Hirvonen said. "I think there's a very good chance to see Ford take the first places this year and Citroen following us watching our tail lights."
Hirvonen is optimistic that Ford can hit the ground running when the 2011 WRC season commences in Sweden next month.
"We did have one test in December on snow already, and we are going back there at the end of this month," he said. "I have to say for the first time on snow and ice it felt good, and we could base some of the setup on the S2000 car. Straight away it was handling really well so it's looking really good. We go back to Sweden next to do the pre-event test for Rally Sweden."
He added that the new WRC rules, which see the top class based on upgraded S2000 concepts, would be a significant change for drivers accustomed to the World Rally Car regulations that had been in place from 1997 to 2010.
"One thing all the drivers are feeling is with the engine, the 1.6 turbo doesn't have as much torque so it's quite a big difference just to drive it," said Hirvonen. "We are getting close to the same top speed in the end but the way we have to use the engine and the way we have to change gears more often, we have to adjust our driving styles. That's the biggest difference for me in the car."
Gerard Quinn, head of Ford's European motorsport programs, believes the new regulations mark an exciting new era for the WRC as a whole.
"As Mikko said, the way you drive it makes it come to life in the way the power is applied," Quinn said. "We hope to have a successful campaign with it this season. The WRC is about pushing the limits and boundaries of technology. We've gone to a 1.6-liter engine and we hope it will still produce the same spectacle. It's all about showcasing the technology and we should be able to do that with the 1.6.
"This is a really exciting time for the sport, having Mini on board and rumors of at least two other manufacturers looking at the sport for the future. The coverage is growing across the world, it's an exciting time for the WRC."