BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and fellow Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila have completed one of the team's longest test sessions in recent years in Sardinia as preparation for the forthcoming Cyprus Rally (12 - 15 March).
The successful six-day test took place on roads around the town of Cagliarito the south of the Italian island, with each driver taking to the wheel of their Ford Focus RS WRC test car for three days. The long test is as a result of the Cyprus Rally this year being run as a mixed surface event – one day on asphalt, two days on gravel. FIA regulations state that teams are required to compete on all three days in gravel specification cars, giving the 20-strong test team a new challenge.
In order to find the right set-up, the test car ran in gravel specification with a lower ride height, similar to that of an asphalt car, and with stiffer suspension springs.
Latvala was the first of the pair to test the car on asphalt: "It's been a very good test and I'm satisfied with what we achieved. I've even had the chance to test the car on asphalt in dry and damp conditions because it rained on Thursday afternoon. This made the test road very slippery where I'd been cutting corners, but it could rain in Cyprusso that could be a positive for me," he said.
"I've learned that I'm going to have to brake much earlier because there isn't the same grip level with the gravel tyres on asphalt roads and the brakes are smaller. You also have to drive in a very straight line and be very neat and precise. It's been very hard on the brakes but the tyres have lasted well. We completed a surprising 240km on asphalt.
"We also had the opportunity to drive on gravel for 370km on two very different roads, one very rough and similar to Greek conditions and one very slow and technical and more like Cypriot roads. I feel confident that we're going to Cypruswith a good setup," he concluded.
Team-mate Hirvonen was second to get behind the wheel: "The test has been really positive for us. The temperatures in Sardinia were perhaps not as high as we're going to experience in Cyprusbut everything felt really good. The Pirelli tyres worked well on the asphalt roads which was encouraging. It's not the nicest feeling driving like this, but it's going to be a new challenge for everyone and interesting to see how fast we all are on Day 1. It's going to be hard on our brakes, but I feel we've done all we can do to prepare for it.
"We did a total of 650km in three days and 430km on some fairly rough and twisty gravel roads. The second road we drove on two years ago and we're a lot faster now. It's great to see how much we've improved. I'm really looking forward to the challenge we've got in two weeks," he added.
Limassol is the host town for the rally, third round of the FIA World Rally Championship.