Mikko Hirvonen says he is hopeful that recent engine improvements made by the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team will aid his challenge on the latest round of the World Rally Championship this weekend in New Zealand.

Ford introduced a series of improvements to the engine in the 2008 Focus RS WRC for the last round in Germany, with Hirvonen being rewarded with a fourth-place finish behind Loeb, Dani Sordo and Francois Duval.

With the New Zealand stages being some of the quickest in the WRC, and with rain ahead of the event having softened the gravel roads to improve traction for those leading the way on the starting order, Hirvonen will hope to pick up a solid result to keep pace with Loeb at the head of the championship, with the gap between the pair currently lying at just four points.

With a best finish of second in the event back in 2006, Hirvonen will hope to go one better although he admitted that if winning isn't an option, picking up good points will be vital to his championship hopes.

"The roads in New Zealand have a good rhythm to them and they are so smooth that there's no need to worry about damaging the car on rocks," he said. "The cambered corners encourage attacking driving but it's important not to position the car on the wrong side of the camber coming into a corner. If that happens then the car ends up sliding wide or perhaps not even making it round at all.

"If the temperatures are cool and it is wet then hard compound tyres will be far from easy. There is no choice in the matter. We will all have to use that compound because those are the rules but I will need to be very careful because it will be hard to get heat into the tyres in those temperatures. It could be like the first stage in Argentina where I took risks in similar conditions and was able to make a very fast time - the alternative is that the risks don't work and the car goes off the road.

"The engine improvements on the new car that we debuted in Germany have made a difference. The tight regulations mean it's not possible to make big steps forward but the engine response has definitely improved. Everything happens a little faster than it did so I hope that will benefit us in New Zealand also.

"It's important to win rallies for our title challenges but if I can't do that then I have to score as many points as possible."