Ford Fiesta S2000 pilots Xevi Pons and Martin Prokop jointly top the table on 96 points with Jari Ketomaa 13 points adrift. Patrik Sandell, who drives a Skoda Fabia S2000, is also in contention, but is 22 points in arrears of Pons and Prokop prior to the all-asphalt contest.
For Ketomaa and Prokop, the event takes on added significance. Ketomaa, from Finland, has never taken part on a Tarmac rally before, while Prokop will have no more opportunities to score points after Rallye de France having taken part on his maximum of seven nominated events.
Ketomaa, who drives an Autotek Motorsport-prepared Ford Fiesta S2000 under the Shanghai FCACA Rally Team banner, isn’t fazed by the challenge that lies ahead and plans to make the most of the experience he gained when he used to race karts and Finnish-specification touring cars during his early career.
“It’s my first one on Tarmac, sure, but I have been taking some lessons from [driving coach] Rob Wilson in the UK and that’s been a great thing because it really helps with the braking,” said the Finn, a winner of three S-WRC rounds already this season. “We will also do a test in France and I have driven on the track in a touring car, but to the Finnish regulations. My times were always okay so I feel confident but I know that I need to be very sharp and learn everything.”
Ketomaa can take the S-WRC title by winning the final two rounds in France and Great Britain, regardless of how his rivals perform on those rallies.
“I can win the championship and my win on Rally Japan [earlier this month] has put me back in the game after the disaster in Jordan and Finland,” said Ketomaa. “France is a very important rally for us and I’m sure my team will be working very hard again to give me a good car.”
Like Ketomaa, Sandell must win in France to keep his title dreams alive and believes his victory on the previous asphalt round in Germany last month will give him the edge.
“France is a new rally for everyone so we all have to prepare new pacenotes,” said the Red Bull Rallye Team-run Swede. “In Germany I also prepared new pacenotes, which were very good and beat drivers who have done the rally four or five times before. This could be a key for victory for me in France. The title is still an open game.”