Jari-Matti Latvala says he is heading into the next round of the WRC season in Mexico in confident mood on the back of a solid test ahead of the event.
The Finn carried out two days of running in Spain prior to heading for South America on stages that Latvala insisted were the best Ford has found for replicating the conditions that should be expected when the team arrives in Mexico.
There, Ford will aim to maintain a run of form that has seen it be unbeaten on loose surface events since September last year.
“The first day was as close to Mexican conditions as we have found in Europe at this time of year,” Latvala said of the test. “The surface was the same and the temperature was 24ºC so it was ideal. After a few months away from dry gravel, it took some time to acclimatise again. I drove three unbroken 54km sections which was perfect preparation for the long 51km stage in the final leg.
“The roads in Mexico aren't the roughest of the season, but they're not the easiest either. Concrete culverts which cross the roads make it hard for the cars.
“It's important on any rally to keep the car in the ruts on the clean line, but even more so in Mexico where the altitude means there's less power than normal. If you make a mistake and slide off line, the time loss is greater because the acceleration isn't as fast as normal. It also means it's easy to be in the wrong gear for corners. What might be identified as a fourth gear corner during the recce, could be only third gear in the rally itself.”
Team-mate Petter Solberg took part in the test despite suffering the after-effects of flu, but the Norwegian came out of the session feeling bullish about his chances for the Mexican event.
“Nothing stops me driving!” he said. “This test and a day on rough roads in France last week were my first opportunity to drive the Fiesta RS WRC on gravel. I felt comfortable in the car very quickly, the same as when I tested on asphalt and snow for the first time.
“I started with the same set-up as Jari-Matti and made a few small changes to suit my style. I moved quietly forwards and I'm happy with what I achieved.
“Mexico is the first gravel rally of the season and the championship really moves into top gear now. The altitude there affects the way you drive. Because there is less power, it's necessary to attack a little harder and keep the speed high. I have a good record in Mexico and another big result would complete a strong start to the season.”