BP Ford Abu Dhabi pair Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala have completed a marathon six-day long test session in Sardinia ahead of the latest round of the World Rally Championship in Cyprus.
The test took place on roads around the town of Cagliari, with each driver spending three days at the wheel, with the decision to run for six days being taken due to the fact that the Cypriot event will be run as a mixed-surface rally – with one day on asphalt followed by two days on gravel.
The FIA's tyre regulations will see crews forced to use gravel tyres for the full three days of running in Cyprus, which provided Ford's test team with a new challenge as they sought to find the best set-up possible for the Focus.
As a result, the car used in the test ran in gravel specification but with a lower ride height and with stiffer suspension springs.
"It's been a very good test and I'm satisfied with what we achieved,” Latvala, the first of the pair to run in the car, reflected. “I've even had the chance to test the car on asphalt in dry and damp conditions because it rained on Thursday afternoon. This made the test road very slippery where I'd been cutting corners, but it could rain in Cyprus so that could be a positive for me.
"I've learned that I'm going to have to brake much earlier because there isn't the same grip level with the gravel tyres on asphalt roads and the brakes are smaller. You also have to drive in a very straight line and be very neat and precise. It's been very hard on the brakes but the tyres have lasted well. We completed a surprising 240km on asphalt.
"We also had the opportunity to drive on gravel for 370km on two very different roads, one very rough and similar to Greek conditions and one very slow and technical and more like Cypriot roads. I feel confident that we're going to Cyprus with a good setup.”
Hirvonen then took his chance to try out the new set-up and he too was pleased with the outcome of the test session.
"The test has been really positive for us,” he said. “The temperatures in Sardinia were perhaps not as high as we're going to experience in Cyprus but everything felt really good. The Pirelli tyres worked well on the asphalt roads which was encouraging. It's not the nicest feeling driving like this, but it's going to be a new challenge for everyone and interesting to see how fast we all are on day one. It's going to be hard on our brakes, but I feel we've done all we can do to prepare for it.
"We did a total of 650km in three days and 430km on some fairly rough and twisty gravel roads. The second road we drove on two years ago and we're a lot faster now. It's great to see how much we've improved. I'm really looking forward to the challenge we've got in two weeks.”