Gerard Quinn, Ford's European motorsport boss, has called on Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala to deliver a championship title during the 2011 WRC campaign as the team looks to bounce back from a tough 2010 season.
Hirvonen won the season-opener in Sweden before his title bid fell apart and, while Latvala finished second in the standings, he was nearly over 100 points behind title winner Sebastien Loeb as the Focus WRC struggled to match the pace of Citroen's C4.
However, new regulations mean a clean sheet of paper for the rival teams this season, with Ford's new Fiesta RS WRC and the Citroen DS3 WRC set to do battle for the first time in Sweden next month.
With Ford having carried out extensive testing of the car in recent months, Quinn said the Finnish pair had to go into the season aiming for championship glory for the first time since 2007, when Ford took the manufacturers' title. The last time a Ford driver was drivers' champion is way back in 1981 when Ari Vatanen lifted the title.
“It's a huge season for us,” Quinn told the official WRC website. “Not only have we got a new car but we've had to get the car to where it is right now and then to make it competitive starting in Sweden. Our main challenge this year will be to win a championship but also to beat the competition. We struggled last season, we had some good rallies but we need to be back winning championships.”
The Fiesta WRC had been due to make its competitive debut on the Arctic Rally this weekend before Latvala suffered a heavy crash in testing, but with the repaired car set to complete a test in Sweden today [Friday], Quinn insisted the team was ready and raring to go when the season gets underway.
“We're ready,” he said. “We've done intensive testing since before the end of last year. Obviously with a new car there's going to be areas of concern and we started off with a pretty big list of issues. But over time with our engineers and our technicians, we have picked those off and resolved all those issues. Hopefully we will minimise and eliminate them by the time we get to Sweden. It's anybody's championship right now and we hope it's our championship.”