Citroen's Sebastien Loeb may have already clinched the drivers' title for another year, but the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team is still in the running to take a third consecutive manufacturers' crown on the final round of the World Rally Championship, in Wales, next weekend.

Malcolm Wilson's squad must overturn an eleven-point deficit on Wales Rally GB so, realistically, nothing worse than a fourth 1-2 finish of the season will suffice, but the team is optimistic that Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala can deliver, as both Finnish pairings have good records on the fast forest roads.

Hirvonen won the British round of the championship last year, while Latvala finished fourth in 2006 and posted a string of special stage wins last year while recovering from a first day time loss.

The narrow forest tracks invite attacking driving, suiting the Finns' style, while Friday's opening leg also offers the rare challenge of competition in full darkness. However, it is Britain's unpredictable weather that can make the event so demanding, as 28-year old Hirvonen admits.

"Some parts of the rally are very fast, even quicker than in Finland," he revealed, "The difference is that the fast parts here don't last long because there are usually hairpin bends that bring the speeds down again, so the nature of the roads changes more than in Finland.

"Last year, however, was probably the toughest Rally GB I have ever driven. Driving in darkness, in fog and rain, was incredibly difficult. Night driving makes the rally even trickier, because this is the only round where we drive in the dark apart from Japan and Monte Carlo. It's something I will practise during my test this weekend. I feel confident and think we have a good chance of a 1-2 finish and, if we can do that, I hope it's enough to win the title."

Team-mate Latvala began his career in Britain aged just 17 and, incredibly, is preparing for his seventh Rally GB, an event he enjoys almost as much as the classic in his homeland.

"I regard this as my second home rally," the 23-year old confessed, "I drove many rallies here in 2002 and 2003, and I'm familiar with the nature of the roads. It's a classic rally and one that I would really like to win. The mid-Wales stages will be new to many drivers, but I have something in my memory of those roads from those seasons. They are high on the hills and quite open, but enjoyable to drive."

Latvala tested in darkness last week, but knows as well as anyone competing next weekend that the stages of south and mid-Wales can easily fall prey to wintry weather.

"When it's dark and gloomy in Wales, then it's incredibly dark," he noted, "Night driving is specialised, so it was important for me to test in the dark and get used to driving with the extra lights we fit to the car.

"If it rains, the roads become very muddy and conditions can be really difficult, but fog is probably the most difficult weather in which to drive, especially if it's dark as well. A driver needs to feel confident with the pace notes, be brave and rely heavily on the co-driver. If the notes are not precise enough, it's easy to lose confidence quickly. On the other hand, a good performance in those conditions can gain a lot of time."

Hirvonen and Latvala will be joined by a third 'official' Focus RS WRC, driven by Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr, but the duo will be hoping for better weather than might be expected.

"This will be my GB debut and I had a two-day test last week to get used to the conditions," Al Qassimi commented, "I don't like wet weather rallies so it will be hard to adjust to. It's easy to slide, spin or go off in those conditions, so the test was important because driving on mud in the forests helped me find my pace."

Despite not looking forward to what could be in store, the Abu Dhabi native is looking for a good result to round out his campaign.

"This is my last event of a long year, my first full season, but it's gone well and I feel I'm progressing better than last year," he added, "After ten events this year, I feel I'm part of the team on merit. I've gained extra mileage, extra confidence, achieved some good results and generally lifted my pace. I've made many changes to my notes and all the time I'm developing my knowledge and experience."

Seven other Focus RS cars will start, with Matthew Wilson and Fran?ois Duval nominated by the Stobart VK M-Sport squad, which has also entered Henning Solberg, Barry Clark, Steve Perez, Dave Weston and MotoGP ace Valentino Rossi.



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