Mikko Hirvonen says that this weekend's Rally Argentina will provide drivers with 'a bit of everything' after a change of format for 2011.
The new-look event will retain the challenge of its high-speed dirt stages in Cordoba province but a fifth of the event this season will run on asphalt – with cars forced to tackle the asphalt element of the event in gravel spec and on gravel tyres.
The classic El Condor stage is one that will now be mixed surface, with Hirvonen and team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala having tested on asphalt with a gravel set-up in Italy last month in preparation for the event.
"The mixed surface stages will be hard for the tyres," Hirvonen, who sits second in the championship going into the event, said. "El Condor's gravel is tough to drive because it's narrow, twisty and rocky. This year the stage switches to asphalt which is wide and smooth, so I'll have to instantly change my approach. The car felt really good on asphalt in testing. It's the first time for the new-generation cars on that surface in competition, so it will be new for us all.
"There is a little bit of everything in this rally – gravel, asphalt, river crossings, long stages. May is late-autumn in Argentina and we can't be sure how the weather will be. It could be warm and dry, which will make conditions tough for soft compound tyres, or it could be wet and muddy, which will make the asphalt slippery. My speed on the last round in Italy was good and I was happy with the pace of the car, so I'm confident I can reproduce that here," said the 30-year-old Finn.
Team-mate Latvala has four previous starts in Argentina to his name and he agreed that the event will be far from easy.
"It's always a demanding rally over tough stages and this year there are plenty of kilometres on asphalt which we must drive on gravel tyres," he said. "Mixed surfaces in the same stage will require a total change of mentality when the roads switch from gravel to asphalt. It's important to be precise, to keep the driving line smooth and straight, to remember that the grip is different and the braking points won't be the same on gravel tyres as they would be on asphalt rubber.
"Friday's first leg is held on technical roads, which contrasts with the second leg which is based in fast stages and characterised by jumps and water crossings. Then the final leg contains what is probably the longest test in the championship this season. So it's important for a driver to adapt to the changes in rhythm each day."