BP Ford Abu Dhabi team leader Mikko Hirvonen will drive the all-new Ford Fiesta S2000 rally car, in what will be its competitive debut, in the famous Monte Carlo Rally early next year, it has been announced.
The Finn will use the five-day rally as a key part of his preparation for the 2010 World Rally Championship, which starts in February, while showcasing the exciting Fiesta S2000 rally car for the first time in competition.
The car has been developed by Ford's rally partner, M-Sport, and made its first appearance as a safety car in November's Rally of Scotland which, like the Monte Carlo Rally, is not part of the FIA World Rally Championship, but a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Hirvonen, who missed out in the 2009 season on a maiden WRC drivers' title by just one point, tested the Fiesta S2000 for the first time in the south of France this week.
"The Fiesta S2000 looks and sounds fantastic," said the 29-year-old. "It's great to finally drive it, be part of the development of a totally new car and I was surprised how quickly I got used to driving it. I was impressed by how good the set-up and the chassis are and that allowed me to push really hard straight away.
"The conditions here in France have been difficult but even with a changing grip level I have been able to drive in a very committed way. It's been great to work with Christian and the team and to have had a positive input to the new project.
"I've driven the Monte Carlo Rally five times previously, so I'm familiar with the roads and the conditions. There are almost four months between the final round of 2009 and the start of the 2010 season, so this will be ideal for getting my mind back into competition mode."
M-Sport managing director and BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson said the Fiesta S2000 was due for homologation in January, so the Monte Carlo Rally, which runs from January 19-23, provided a perfect opportunity for the car's competition debut.
"Ford has a long association with the Monte Carlo Rally, which we won in 2006 with Marcus Grönholm in a Focus RS World Rally Car. It remains a legendary event and will provide spectators with an exciting chance to see the Fiesta S2000 in competitive action over classic stages such as the Col de Turini," Wilson noted. "Competition is the true challenge for any new car, and Mikko's feedback on its performance will prove valuable for our development programme."
"The 2010 WRC season begins almost a month later than usual so the Monte Carlo Rally will provide a perfect warm-up for Mikko," added Ford of Europe's motorsport chief, Gerard Quinn.
"It's also a great test opportunity. Road conditions usually vary between dry asphalt and snow or ice. There are four asphalt rallies in the 2010 series, so it will give Mikko valuable practice on that surface. If the weather is wintery, it will also be a good rehearsal for the WRC's first round in Sweden."