Mikko Hirvonen said he was “genuinely excited” having tested the Ford Fiesta RS World Rally for the first time in a seven day test on gravel roads in Spain and France.
The Finn tested the new car – to be introduced into WRC competition next year – as did his countryman and Ford WRC teammate Jari-Matti Latvala.
“I had looked forward so much to driving the Fiesta RS WRC and I was very satisfied with it,” declared Hirvonen. “It was just as much fun as I hoped and I’m genuinely excited about what we can achieve with it. Of course, there is still a lot of development to do but my first impressions are very good. It has its own unique feel and it’s like driving an angry bee!”
“A slightly more aggressive approach is needed, especially in slower corners, where the driver needs to take command and attack harder, rather than letting the car do the work.”
The car has been thoroughly tested already. Matthew Wilson and P-G Andersson previously put the car through 2500km of durability work (though with a different engine) while Latvala described his 220km of testing in France as having included the roughest rally road he'd ever driven.
“The road is usually used for testing cars of the type that compete in the Dakar Rally and it was full of big rocks, holes and bumps. It asked a lot of the car, but I pushed hard because the team wanted to see how the Fiesta behaved in those conditions.”
“The testing we have done until now was based on durability and obtaining feedback,” said team director Malcolm Wilson. “That raised no major issues and meant we could progress the programme this week by moving onto specific set-up for the car. Mikko and Jari-Matti have valuable experience of the rallies in the WRC calendar, and possess the detailed knowledge to provide a base specification from which to fine-tune the set-up from rally to rally.”
“The weather in Spain ranged from high temperatures at the start of the week to heavy rain and mud as the test progressed. It wasn’t pleasant for the team, but it was perfect for putting the car through its paces in the type of varied conditions we will encounter in the championship next year.”
While the car was tested on the continent the new 1.6 litre turbocharged engine, based on the Ford EcoBoost production powerplant, was tested at the M-Sport team's base in England. The new car and new engine will be united for a three day test in Spain following the Rally de Espana this weekend.
The new engine (smaller compared to the 2 litre unit that powers the current Focus WRC car) will require a different style, Hirvonen describing how the smaller engine needs to be kept at higher revs. Latvala labelled the prototype 1.6 litre engine used in the car's test run as “better than [he] expected”.
The Fiesta RS WRC will be driven by Hirvonen and Latvala across all 13 round of next year's World Rally Championship which starts in February in Sweden.