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GP Week : Issue 26
>>WRCNEW ZEALAND of the people Hirvonen is AS a motorsport journo, you generally get good access to the major players in the sport. In Europe, scribes like Andrew vAn our own Will Buxton speak regularly to the people that make Formula 1 go round. Likewise for myself and my colleagues here at Motorsport News in Australia, although its V8 Supercars that lead our news pages. But while we deal with drivers and team owners and engineers on a daily basis, the absolute accessibility of World Rallying is, relatively- speaking, mind-blowing. It had been a couple of years since I’d been to a World Rally when I landed in New Zealand last weekend, and instantly I was reminded of how close you can get to this particular discipline of our sport. I mean that literally, the two factory Citroen C4s were idling noisily in the Hotel’s foyer. It was the same the next morning. The restaurant in the Novatel in Hamilton was full of the world’s best rally drivers, already wearing their suits, making coffee and spooning scrambled eggs on their plates. They mingled, not just with their own teams, but with people wearing all different coloured shirts. A fellow journo was blown away that he could come back to our table and explain, in detail, how Sebastien Loeb made his coffee. But here’s the best bit. On Saturday evening, while in the hotel’s Leeuwen Production editor bar washing down some dust, I witnessed Mikko Hirvonen walk straight in the main doors, still wearing his suit, and up to the bar to order a frosty beer for him and his co-driver. They then proceeded to enjoy the beverages, still wearing their nomex, at a nearby table. It wasn’t irresponsible, it wasn’t a reflection of his work effort, it wasn’t something that should link motorsport to alcoholism. It was just a bloke enjoying a beer after a hard day’s work. It was a bloke being a bloke. It was exactly what motorsport needs, a human touch, which ordinary people can relate to. And speaking of ordinary people, while at that bar, Mikko was accessible to whoever walked past and wanted to shake his hand. As I write this I realise I sound like a boy completely over-awed by a race driver, but that isn’t the case. Race drivers are a part of this business – that much I’m used to. But to see Mikko having a beer was refreshing (as, I’m sure, was the beer), and made the likes of Formula 1 and V8 Supercars look like they take themselves way too seriously. Even as a journo, a full-time motorsport hack, getting into the paddock at an F1 race is hard work, and you have to be there to see anyone of note. And, unless you are an accepted part of the F1 furniture, wandering up to a driver and sussing him out for some news is a no-go, unless it is pre-arranged with the team’s press officer. Or one of the team’s press officers. And God forbid a member of the public might get close to an F1 driver. I mean, look at what happened to Hirvonen the day after he exposed himself to the well-wishes of rally fans who spied him having a beer at the hotel; he crashed! In case it has been lost between my brain and this page, I’d like to point out I am being sarcastic. Anyway, if you want to see some rally drivers but don’t like getting your feet dirty, find the nicest hotel in whatever town the rally is based out of, and sit in the foyer. You never know who you might see, or share a lift with, or fight with for the last hash brown at breakfast. But it probably won’t be Lewis Hamilton. 43 opinion