Hat-trick hero Hirvonen bids to move on up Down
BP Ford Abu
Dhabi World Rally Team takes its four-event winning run to Australia
next week intent on strengthening its lead in the FIA World Rally
Championship drivers' standings. Three successive victories for Mikko
Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in the record-breaking Ford Focus RS World
Rally Car have propelled the Finnish duo into a three-point advantage
ahead of a new-look Rally Australia (3 - 6 September).
The rally returns to the series for the first time since 2006 and after
19 years in Western Australia, it has crossed the country to the east
coast. Its new base is the small resort of Kingscliff in the far
north-east of New South Wales, close to the border with Queensland and
just a few kilometres south of the famous Gold Coast holiday region and
The Ford squad is surfing a wave of success after equalling the team's
best ever winning run in the WRC last month. Victory for Jari-Matti
Latvala and Miikka Anttila in Italy preceded Hirvonen's hat-trick in
Greece, Poland and an emotional home town success in Finland. Just three
of the 12 rounds remain and the virgin rally territory of the Tweed
region, home to the Aboriginal people for 10,000 years, and the Kyogle
area, known as The Gateway to the Rainforest, will provide a tough
Drivers will only begin to develop an understanding of the
characteristics of the gravel roads once the recce begins on Tuesday.
However, BP Ford Abu Dhabi tyre engineer George Black visited the area
last year to examine the nature of the speed tests. The average special
stage length is the shortest in the series, reflecting the rally's
proximity to populated areas where gravel roads are less frequent.
The tests vary greatly, ranging from narrow and twisty routes among
trees near Kingscliff that are used during the first leg, to quick, wide
and smooth roads further west where speeds are expected to be close to
those experienced in Finland, the championship's fastest round. The most
westerly roads, used during the final leg, incorporate narrow rainforest
tracks. Each loop of stages has a mix of roads so selecting the best
compromise set-up for the Focus RS World Rally Cars will be important.
Hirvonen claimed his first WRC win in Australia in 2006 but the
29-year-old Finn acknowledges that will count for nothing on new roads.
"This is a brand new rally so I don't know what to expect," he said.
"The roads in the west where I won in 2006 are different to those we
will experience here. The tracks were covered in slippery marble-like
stones but I understand these roads are more traditional gravel, which
should suit me. I love Australia, the people are friendly and easy going
- like me!
"It's a crucial rally for the championship. I will try to win but if I
can't, then I must score as many points as possible. Zero points and the
title fight could be over for me this year. I have a good record on new
rallies, although I don't feel I do anything differently in either the
recce or the rally itself. But I'll be happy if I can maintain that
record," added Hirvonen, who hopes to help 40-year-old Lehtinen
celebrate his 100th WRC start in style.
Latvala, starting his third Rally Australia, identified the arduous
schedule as a key factor. Drivers must spend more than 14 hours behind
the wheel during the first leg, over 15 hours on the second day and more
than 11 hours on the usually short final leg.
"They are long days and it will be important to adapt quickly to the
time difference after the flight there and sleep a lot to be ready for
this rally," said Latvala. "Maintaining concentration will be harder
than usual. In most rallies the stages are held in groups of three, but
it's different here. The opening section on the first leg includes seven
tests so it will be important to remain focused during the long liaison
"Shorter stages usually mean the competition is close because it's more
difficult to open big time gaps on short tests than it is on longer
sections. The drivers' championship is looking set for an exciting
finish and my job in Australia will be to score solid points to help
Mikko maintain his challenge for the title," added 24-year-old Latvala.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive a third Focus
RS WRC for the team. Al Qassimi is eager to maintain the form that has
seen the 37-year-old driver claim points on four occasions from six
outings this year. "I am very much looking forward to the Australian
east coast rally experience. The stages will be new to everyone, so we
are all in the same position to give it our best shot and get the most
out of the challenge. I have great confidence in my car and the team, so
I just need to prove that I can perform on the unknown stages," said Al
* Tyre partner Pirelli will provide BP Ford Abu Dhabi with just the one
regulation tyre pattern. The Scorpion gravel tyre will be available in
hard compound only. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts
into the rubber and each car can carry two spare wheels.
* Three other Focus RS WRCs will start. Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud
and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated by the Stobart VK
M-Sport squad while Federico Villagra / Jorge Perez Companc will drive
for the Munchi's Ford team.
* During their visit to Sydney for promotional activities, Hirvonen /
Lehtinen and Latvala / Anttila will attend the Sydney Swans v Brisbane
Lions Australian Rules football match tomorrow (Saturday) evening at the
Sydney Cricket Ground. It is the final game of the season for the
The rally is based in Kingscliff, on the Tweed Coast, which will also
host the service park. The stages will all be based in the Tweed and
Kyogle shires to the south-west. Two passes of an asphalt super special
stage around the streets of Murwillumbah begin the action on Thursday
and will also end the competition on Friday and Saturday. The opening
leg is the shortest, with much of the action based close to Murwillumbah,
before Saturday's route takes competitors further west for stages
clustered around Kyogle. The final leg is the longest, journeying west
of Kyogle with a remote service based in the town's main street. A live
TV stage ends the action before the finish back in Kingscliff. Drivers
tackle 35 stages covering 344.72km of competition in a route of
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