Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team star Mikko Hirvonen reckons the true acid test for the Blue Oval's chances in the 2011 World Rally Championship will come on round two in Mexico in March – but before that, he is bidding to get his title challenge off to a winning start on Rally Sweden next weekend.
Due to the advent of the Super 2000 regulations, both Ford and arch-rival Citroën will compete this year with all-new cars, in the former's case the Castrol EDGE-sponsored Fiesta RS WRC, for the latter the DS3 WRC.
Aside from an embarrassing and damaging 150km/h roll for team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala during testing in Sweden last month that represented a minor setback to the team [see separate story – click here
], Hirvonen remains confident that preparations are on-track to be 'ready' to fight at the front in Karlstad, on an event in which he has not been off the podium in the past three editions and on which Ford remains unbeaten since 2006.
“It does feel a little bit different, but I would say mainly because of the engine – we just don't have the same torque anymore, so we have to use the engine a little bit differently and change the gears a bit more,” the Finn told Crash.net
, when asked how the new Fiesta compares to its Focus predecessor. “Since the car is wider and shorter, it is a bit more stable and a bit more agile in places, and altogether, it feels like it's working really well. It certainly looks fantastic and it feels really good as well, so I think we are going in a good direction.
“Testing's going fine; the first few tests were just kind of a learning curve to understand the car – when you make a change, it reacts differently to how the Focus would – but I think we've found the direction in which we want to go now, and since then it's been really good. There are still things to do and try, but I think we are on the right schedule and we should be ready to fight for the win in Sweden.
“I hope we can win again, get back in the fight and start the season with a victory like I did last year, but then just keep it that way and carry it on. It's always been a rally I really enjoy. We have a new car, new tyres – there will be lots of new things when we go to Sweden – but I feel like we are ready for it.”
Three weeks after Sweden will come Mexico, and if the former is Ford territory, then the latter has invariably belonged to Citroën of late. If the Fiesta can get the better of the DS3 in Guanajuato and reverse a trend that has gone unchanged since 2006, then Hirvonen suggests he and Latvala could be in for an extremely
“Of course I'm always waiting to get to Finland and all those rallies that I really enjoy,” the 30-year-old reflected, “but Mexico has been a rally where before we have always struggled a bit against Citroën, so now with the new car it's going to be very exciting to see how we can get around the problems we had there and see if we can fight there as well. If we can do that, then I definitely know that we're going to be very strong through the whole season.”