This weekend's Wales Rally GB will be the final World Rally Championship event for the Ford Focus RS WRC, marking the end of its 12-year career. BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen will be aiming to give the car its 45th and final WRC victory.
As well as going for the rally win, Latvala will be aiming to take second place in the drivers' standings, attempting to beat the Citroens of Sebasiten Ogier and Petter Solberg in the process. Latvala currently lies in third, 11 points behind Ogier and five ahead of Solberg. Latvala has been driving Focus RS WRCs on the event since 2003, when he was aged just 18. He has competed in Wales more times than on Rally Finland, with a best finish of second in 2008 from his eight starts so far.
He said: “At the start of the season I privately set a target to finish in the top three of the championship. I’m third and have a chance to take second, so I need a strong result in Wales. I started my career in Britain and my first world rally was here, so Rally GB is like a second home event for me.
Latvala is aware of the part that the weather conditions can play on the Welsh stages. “Conditions during the last three years were extreme with heavy rain in 2007 and 2009 and ice in 2008 that caused much of the opening leg to be cancelled,” he said. “Ice is the worst. It can lurk on the surface under the trees, and if the car hits a patch of ice all a driver can do is hope the grip returns before it slides off the road. Confidence is important. When you start to be afraid of the weather and hesitate, you lose a lot of time. You need to be brave and put your trust in the pace notes.”
Hirvonen meanwhile lies sixth in the standings after a disappointing season. He will be looking to end it on a high note though by adding to his Rally GB victory from 2007. He said: “To end the car’s career with a win and take the final victory of the World Rally Car era would be fantastic. The problem is that every driver has the same thought! The championship titles are settled and so everyone can drive for victory. Even those contesting second and third in the drivers’ points will have to drive hard, so I expect a good battle.
Hirvonen echoed his teammate's comments about the weather. “The weather can make this a tricky rally,” he said, “and it could be even more so this year with a long asphalt section on Epynt. If it’s wet and muddy that road could be treacherous. The early cars will drag dirt onto the surface and make it even more slippery for those behind. In fact the driver that is first in the start order will do his best to pull as much gravel and mud onto the asphalt as he can. But the grip level is always inconsistent in Britain at this time of the year. It’s another challenge.”
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi will drive the team's third car for his third Rally GB start, even though the focus of his nation may be elsewhere over the weekend. “This weekend will be the biggest few days of motorsport ever for Abu Dhabi,” he said. “Not only will I be competing in Wales, but the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be taking place over the same weekend. All Emirati eyes will be on the Welsh gravel and the Abu Dhabi tarmac and I am hoping for another strong performance. We go to Wales in high spirits after a great performance in Spain, and I hope to end the season with another strong performance and more points.”