Can this man really beat Loeb?

Can this man really beat Loeb?

Mikko Hirvonen may be the underdog as he takes on Sebastien Loeb for the WRC crown on Rally GB next weekend, but, as Sam Tremayne found out, the Finn heads to the British event full of confidence

"This sport needs a new champion," the voice crackles over the radio. "I came close a few years ago. Others have too, like Gronholm in 2006 and 2007. But Loeb has always managed to take it home. Maybe – hopefully – not this year…"

I'm sat beside Mikko Hirvonen, the Ford World Rally team's de facto number one driver for 2011, just about. The Finn's assertion is delivered in a matter-of-fact, conversational tone that belies the tension and gravity behind it. In next weekend's Rally of Great Britain the 2011 World Rally Championship will be claimed by either Sebastien Loeb or Hirvonen, a straight two-horse race between old and enduring rivals.

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