World Rally Championship runner-up Mikko Hirvonen has talked of an emotional visit to M-Sport earlier this week, when he went to say goodbye to his former team.
Hirvonen flew to Britain earlier this week to pay tribute to the Ford and M-Sport, with whom he finished runner-up to Sebastien Loeb in this year's championship. The Finn subsequently announced he would be joining his long-term rival at Citroen, and has already tested the DS3 WRC which he will drive from next month onwards.
Having driven for Ford for the last six years however, Hirvonen wanted to thank each and every member of the M-Sport team who had prepared his Focus RS WRC and Fiesta RS WRCs. All of Hirvonen's 14 WRC wins have come at the wheel of a Cumbrian-built car.
"It wasn't an easy thing to do to come and say goodbye," Hirvonen said. "It was very emotional. I wanted to visit M-Sport for the last time.
"It was quite a big hassle after Rally GB, we didn't really have any time to say goodbye to everybody and, at that time, we still didn't really know what was going to happen. I just really wanted to go over there and see all the guys who were there and to say thanks everybody for everything they have done in the eight years I have been there."
Despite his switch to Citroen, Hirvonen says he will always remain close to Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson and the M-Sport team.
Hirvonen said: "I have such a fantastic relationship with the team and so many good friends in the team. For sure, it's going to be different next year, but I'm sure we will always stay in contact and I have no doubt we will have a good time in the years to come as well!"
Hirvonen was accompanied by his co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen, but it was only the driver who left with his face a different color to when he arrived.
"They wanted to do a bit of a prank, I guess I asked for it," said Hirvonen. "It's been a bit of a tradition in the team that when the new mechanic comes to the test and gets in the rally car for the first time, he gets his face painted. Somehow I had managed to avoid this, until the last time I went there and then they got me. The boys caught me by surprise, my face was very, very colourful when I left for the last time."