x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Safety first as Hirvonen gets ready for finale

With the World Rally Championship's Great Britain climax under a fortnight away the championship leader Mikko Hirvonen will steer a non-competitive safety car in the Cambrian Rally - the WRC season finale's traditional warm-up event.

Finland's Mikko Hirvonen will switch his Ford Focus for the safety car in Wales.
Finland's Mikko Hirvonen will switch his Ford Focus for the safety car in Wales.

With the World Rally Championship's Great Britain climax under a fortnight away the championship leader Mikko Hirvonen will steer a non-competitive safety car in the Cambrian Rally - the WRC season finale's traditional warm-up event. The BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver, who leads Citroen's Sebastien Loeb by a solitary point ahead of the title decider, had explored entering outright, but ultimately opted for the eye-catching role of safety car - the vehicle which will drive ahead of the 150-strong field in Llandudno, Wales.

"After three days competing on the asphalt roads of Spain last weekend, it's important for me to regain a good feel on gravel ahead of Rally Great Britain," said the Finn, who won the 2002 Cambrian Rally. In addition to a surface familiarisation exercise, the safety car duty will allow Hirvonen to practise being the first car on the road - similar to the "sweeping" role bestowed on him as championship leader that he will endure during the WRC decider's opening day.

"Driving on the Cambrian Rally in a competitive environment will improve my familiarity with the nature of the Welsh forests. It will be the perfect way to ready myself for what should be a thrilling final round," added Hirvonen. Having lost out to Citroen in the manufacturers' championship for the second year running, Ford team director Malcolm Wilson's gaze is fixed firmly on Hirvonen's bid to win in Wales and secure a maiden championship; a result which would end also Loeb's half-decade domination of the sport.

"Mikko's role as safety car means he will drive at competitive speeds," said Wilson. "It will be the ideal way for him to focus on the week ahead, which will be the most important few days of his rally career. We take a one-point lead to Rally Great Britain, so we expect the most exciting title fight in recent years." Despite reports he is also considering a Cambrian Rally outing, Loeb has yet to declare his pre- Rally Great Britain plans.

The tarmac specialist's Citroen team, however, traditionally conduct an extensive gravel-based test in the run-up to the season's curtain call. Meanwhile, Qatar's Nasser al-Attiyah - the Middle East Rally Champion - will also contest the October 17 event as he finalises his own preparations for the following weekend's WRC showdown. @Email:emegson@thenational.ae