Hirvonen leaves nothing to chance

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team has stepped up its preparations for next week's penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Spain as the 2009 season heads for a gripping climax. The squad extended its test ahead of Rally de España (1 - 4 October) from four days to seven, and both drivers' championship leader Mikko Hirvonen and team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala completed asphalt coaching to strengthen Ford's title challenge.

Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen take a five-point lead into this 11th round of the campaign after winning the last four rounds in the record-breaking Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. They will be supported by fellow Finns Latvala and Miikka Anttila, whose victory in Italy in May began a five-rally winning streak that is Ford's best-ever in the WRC.

Hirvonen visited Britain last week for a day's driving training with former European FIA Endurance Touring Car champion Rob Wilson. He then completed two days' testing on sweeping roads in Catalonia, close to where the rally is based, and has an additional day scheduled on Monday. Latvala took tuition from ex-Finnish touring car champion Olli Haapalainen before his two-day test this week.

The Spanish session was launched by ex-Ford driver Markko Märtin, who won back-to-back asphalt rallies in a Focus RS WRC in France and Spain in 2004. He spent two days with the team last week, using his sealed surface expertise to advise on car set-up and pinpoint minor modifications that could improve the Focus RS WRC's performance even further. The trio completed 1450km in six days.

The rally is based in the holiday resort of Salou, on the Costa Daurada coast, south of Barcelona. The flowing speed tests in the Tarragona region are fast and can be compared to a race circuit in their characteristics. Although the roads are smooth, they are often abrasive and quickly become slippery as drivers cut the open corners to shave tenths of a second from their times, dragging stones and dirt onto the surface. Conditions will therefore worsen during the repeat afternoon pass of the special stages.

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25th September, 2009