Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala rack up more than 1,000km on tarmac ahead of the Rally Bulgaria.
Team Abu Dhabi taking it to the street
With more than 1,000 kilometres of asphalt training behind them, Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi's flyers in the World Rallying Championship (WRC), are hoping to close the gap on Sebastien Loeb at the Rally Bulgaria. Citroen's Loeb, a record six-time world champion, leads the drivers' championship with 126 points as the WRC resumes in Bulgaria today after a six-week summer break.
Sebastien Ogier, of Citroen Junior, is second with 88 points, followed by Hirvonen on 76 and Latvala on 72. The Ford duo are, however, confident of closing that gap on the Citroens after an intensive course of asphalt testing last week. "I've completed plenty of asphalt work recently, to shake off the rust after a long time without a WRC rally on that surface and to improve my technique," Hirvonen was quoted as saying by the News & Star newspaper.
"Asphalt driving doesn't come as easily to me as it does on gravel. I know what to do, but I need to get into the frame of mind where I do it automatically, without having to think about it. I identified areas in which I needed to improve and I feel good about my driving now." Latvala is also confident after the tests. He said: "The whole team has worked hard and I feel we've taken a step forward with both myself and the car.
"Previously, I sometimes felt uncomfortable with my asphalt driving. During the test I firstly concentrated on getting back into the rhythm of driving on the surface. Then I focused on consistency, keeping my driving tidy." The pair, however, could not find enough pace at the pre-event shakedown yesterday, with Hirvonen clocking the sixth-fastest time (1min 41.3secs) and Latvala the seventh. Citroen privateer Petter Solberg (1min 39.4secs) set the fastest time in the four-hour test, followed by fellow Citroen C4 driver Dani Sordo.
Kimi Raikkonen, the former Formula One world champion, underlined his skills on asphalt with the fourth-fastest time. "He is certainly very fast on tarmac," Loeb said. * With agencies