Mikko Hirvonen lived with that pressure year-in-year-out throughout his career. The weight of expectation is always there, the residents of Jväskylä always desperate to remind everybody that, come Sunday afternoon, if you want to win, you need a Finn.
After finishing second twice, Hirvonen took his first win in 2009 after a tight fight with Sébastien Loeb. Victory moved the then Ford-driving Finn three points clear of his Citroën rival in the championship chase, but this weekend a decade ago was all about Mikko bagging the big one.
“The support at home is always really big,” said Hirvonen. “I like that but it does bring more pressure. There’s the feeling that you want to win your rally. It might not always have looked like it when I was driving, but I enjoyed that.
“I guess it depends a bit on your character. Some drivers enjoy the pressure of competing at home. For me, it was always nice. You know all the corners, I’m not talking about the rally now, I’m talking about the recce, the road sections, the places and the people. You know them and they’re friendly. It’s really nice in Jyväskylä at rally time.”
Try as he might, Hirvonen couldn’t repeat that maiden win at home, despite going into the 2011 event on a high.
“I was so confident before that event in ’11,” he said. “I was going to win that rally, no doubt about it. Things went wrong on the first stage, but we were really quick after that.”
Really quick – like almost three times more fastest times than the eventual winner Loeb.
Hirvonen continued: “The year after I was driving with Citroën and I started thinking: ‘OK, the last two years haven’t been great, I’m going to take it easier on the first day.’
“We did three stages on Thursday night and I was seven seconds behind Loeb, but I thought: ‘It’s no problem, the car feels so good. I’m going to catch him.’
“I lost the rally by 6.5sec. In three days, I caught half a second back to him! It’s so important, where you are in your mind when you come to this rally.”
For Hirvonen, who will be present in the Jyväskyla service park as a television reporter this year, the locals remain the ones to watch.
“Teemu (Suninen) can be really quick,” he said. “What he did two years ago to finish fourth in only his second start in a World Rally Car was incredible. He drove a fantastic rally and I think he can be the one this week.
“Jari-Matti (Latvala) knows the rally really well and the Toyota is very quick, we know that. He has all the chances to win, let’s see if he can pull it off. Esapekka (Lappi) has won here two years ago, but we’ve seen him struggle a bit this season – he can be good if he comes with a clean rally.”