Mikko Hirvonen won the legendary Monte Carlo Rally at the weekend in the new M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 rally car after leading from start to finish on its competitive debut.
Ford's official World Rally Championship number one mastered treacherous winter conditions in the mountains of southern France to reach the finish at Monaco's famous harbour with a 1 minute 51.4 second advantage.
"The Monte Carlo Rally is one of the world's great rallies and it's a big thrill to win here," Hirvonen reflected. "It was a long, hard event and the conditions made the challenge even tougher.
"This car is brand new to competition but everything worked perfectly from the first kilometre. That's a tribute to the whole team, and particularly the people who put in so much effort over the last two weeks. To start the season with a win is a big confidence boost. I enjoy the winning feeling and I want to carry on like this when the WRC starts next month in Sweden."
The Fiesta S2000 has been developed by Ford's rally partner, M-Sport, and the five-day Monte Carlo Rally offered the toughest of debuts. However, the car never missed a beat over 405.01km of competition, to provide a perfect start to the 2010 campaign for Hirvonen and his co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen.
The expertise of the Finns, runners-up in the 2009 world championship, proved invaluable behind the wheel of the exciting new Fiesta S2000. The rally also provided them with an ideal warm-up for the forthcoming WRC season, which begins in Sweden next month.
The Monte Carlo Rally was the opening round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC), for which M-Sport is a registered contender, and delighted company boss Malcolm Wilson watched live television coverage of the closing kilometres in the service park as Hirvonen safely guided the Fiesta S2000 to victory.
"It's a dream debut for our new Fiesta S2000. We led from the first stage to the last and didn't experience a single problem, which is hugely encouraging for a new car. Mikko drove at exactly the pace he needed to win and his feedback will be crucial in our further development of the Fiesta," said Wilson.
"I would also like to thank the team at M-Sport, which has put so much effort and commitment into turning this car from a blank sheet of paper into a Monte Carlo Rally winner in just nine months."
"I'm delighted to see the Ford Fiesta S2000 winning such a prestigious event as the Monte Carlo Rally," added Gerard Quinn, Ford of Europe's motorsport chief.
"The fact the car won its debut rally is a testament to the continued strong relationship between Ford and M-Sport and the companies share great technical expertise in developing rally cars. The strength and reliability so evident in the Fiesta road car have provided the perfect base from which to develop the Fiesta S2000."