09 May 08
World Rally Championship leader Mikko Hirvonen says emerging from the first day of the forthcoming Rally d’Italia Sardegna within 15 seconds of the leader is vital if he is to challenge for victory on the sixth round of the series.
Running first on the road means Hirvonen will be hampered by sweeping the loose gravel off the surface on the Italian island, but the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver is confident he can contain that time loss.
“First in the start order on Friday is never the best place on a dry gravel rally,” said the 27-year-old. “The first car cleans the loose stones and those behind have a better driving line. But it's not usually a big disadvantage in Sardinia and I'm not going to worry about that. My focus is finding the right speed on Friday morning because I can't afford to let any driver break clear. At the end of the first day in Jordan four cars were covered by less than 15 seconds. It could be just as close in Sardinia and I need to be in that group.”
The roads in Sardinia are notoriously narrow and in places - particularly on the second run through - rough. Those road surfaces combined with the hot conditions will make the next round hard work for Pirelli’s Scorpion tyre. Hirvonen, however, is not worried about the roads or the rubber.
“It's [Sardinia] by no means the roughest rally of the season,” he said. “It's the first hot gravel rally in Europe but we have good knowledge of how Pirelli's tyres work in those conditions from Mexico and Jordan. The roads are probably rougher than either of those events but they're not too harsh on tyres and I have no concerns about that.”
Hirvonen’s team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala, feels his driving style needs work since the last outing in Jordan, where he was fighting for victory prior to damaging his Focus RS WRC07’s suspension on the final day. Latvala said: “I was a little too sideways in Jordan and I want to find a better balance with the car on these tyres. My final position on the last round in Jordan was disappointing after challenging for the win for most of the event, but I came away with more positives than negatives. I was happy with my speed.