Ford's Finnish duo of Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala are both chasing a second victory at home on Rally Finland next weekend.
Hirvonen claimed victory on the classic event in 2009, while Latvala won last year. Both are looking to win the 2011 event in front of their home fans around the high speed gravel roads.
Hirvonen lies second in the drivers' standings and a victory on Rally Finland would be a perfect birthday present as he turns 31 the day after the rally finish.
“Rally Finland is special,” he said. “I'm competing in front of family and friends and it provides an extra boost for me to try to win. It also brings more expectation, as the Finnish fans support Jari-Matti and myself and they want to see one of us win. It's more pressure, but good pressure.”
The second leg of this year's rally is made up of new stages for the current generation of WRC drivers.
“The new stages will be interesting,” said Hirvonen. “I drove some of those roads in 2001 and 2002 when I competed in the national championship, but it was a long time ago and I can't remember them. Perhaps during the recce before the rally I will start to recall some sections. A win here is important, not just because it's my home rally, but also because I need maximum points for the championship.”
The drivers completed two days each of testing behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC in Finland last week, which has given Latvala a further boost ahead of the rally.
“The car has become increasingly more stable as the season has progressed and it feels great on the fast roads and jumps,” he said. “It's such a quick rally that a driver must know his limits and be sensible. You don't want to be frightened at the wheel, but you must be able to feel the fear and recognise where those limits are.
“The pace is such that every error in Finland is magnified, and to win you need to have a perfect drive from the first corner to the last. These are the most difficult gravel roads in the world on which to compete and so much thought has to go into the lines and braking points for jumps. The perfect jump is not too high, with the car landing on all four wheels, like a cat. It requires a higher level of concentration than any other rally.”
26-year-old Latvala will reach his 100th start in the WRC on the rally, becoming the youngest driver to reach the milestone.
“To reach 100 starts feels strange,” he said. “For me, a driver who makes his 100th start has been in the sport a long time, but I’m only 26 and don't feel I've been around a long time. Perhaps I have!”
Khalid Al Qassimi will make his first start in the Team Abu Dhabi-entered third factory Fiesta since Rally d'Italia Sardegna. He will look to improve upon his best finish in Finland of ninth, four years on since his debut with the team on Rally Finland in 2007.
“The last four years with Ford Abu Dhabi have been my best in motorsport, and I hope to celebrate Abu Dhabi’s fourth anniversary with the team and WRC with a strong result,” he said.