x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Smooth roads ahead

There are seven stages remaining in the 2008 rally season - and three of them will be performed on tarmac.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team driver, Mikko Hirvonen of Finland races during the Super Special stage at the Rally of Turkey in June.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team driver, Mikko Hirvonen of Finland races during the Super Special stage at the Rally of Turkey in June.

ABU DHABI // Everyone loves to have the smoothest ride possible and Mikko Hirvonen and Jari Latvala are no different. As rally drivers for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team, they are expected to ride in the toughest of conditions on gravel and rock. But refreshing their skills on the other extreme surface - tarmac - would do no harm. It should ensure a smoother ride, literally.

With that in mind, the World Rally Championship leader Hirvonen and his teammate Latvala recently received coaching tips from the asphalt driving coach Rob Wilson to help them on tarmac surfaces. The BP Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson confirmed that both drivers had spent time in England with the renowned tutor to hone their asphalt-driving techniques. "Most of the drivers drive and test themselves on gravel which forms 70 per cent of the rally surfaces. But there is no harm in going back and learning the basics on tarmac," he said. The idea to refresh their memories was also Wilson's after he engaged Rob's services for his own son Matthew last year.

He recommended Rob to Marcus Gronholm, the team's lead driver until last year who is now retired, and he also came back with a lot of positive feedback. But Wilson said the idea to send the two drivers to Rob was a long term investment after going through the pages of history. "It's been such a long time since anybody other than Sebastien Loeb won a tarmac rally that we realise we have a tough challenge ahead," he said.

"Loeb has done well and is tough to beat on tarmac where we too need to win more." Hirvonen had a two-day session before Monte Carlo while Latvala had a one-day stint. "Marcus (Gronholm) took some coaching with Rob last year and felt it was a big advantage, so it made sense to give Mikko and Jari-Matti the same opportunity. Of the remaining seven stages of the rally season, three are on tarmac and four on gravel.

"Both Hirvonen and Latvala prefer driving on gravel." But with Hirvonen battling for the lead for the drivers' championship and Latvala playing a vital role in Ford's quest for a third consecutive manufacturers' title, Wilson says both drivers have done exceedingly well and better than his expectations. "To be leading at the half way stage (of the season) is a bonus," he admitted. @Email:kshyam@thenational.ae