NEW SPANISH GRAVEL TESTS BOOST BP FORD ABU DHABI'S PODIUM HOPES Team Abu Dhabi Juniors Look To Close in on FSTi Title Salou, Spain. 20 October 2010: BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen, Jari-Matti Latvala and Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi believe...
NEW SPANISH GRAVEL TESTS BOOST BP FORD ABU DHABI'S PODIUM HOPES
Team Abu Dhabi Juniors Look To Close in on FSTi Title
Salou, Spain. 20 October 2010: BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen, Jari-Matti Latvala and Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi believe this weekend's new-look Rally de Espana - the penultimate round of the 13-series FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) - will give their podium ambitions a timely boost thanks to its unique mix of gravel and asphalt surfaces, which better suit the Abu Dhabi trio's driving styles.
The 20th running of the Catalonian rally, taking place 22-24 October, has reverted back to its original format of mixed surfaces, moving away from the all-asphalt test of more recent years.
Abu Dhabi's Flying Finns - Hirvonen and Latvala - are widely regarded as rally's gravel specialists, and believe that using mixed specifications throughout the three day, 344.88kms, action-packed Spanish encounter, could see them usurp rivals Citroen to claim a much-needed one-two finish.
"The format of this event will make it interesting. A car in gravel set-up is higher off the ground and it will move around a lot in asphalt. The driving is less precise and it will be important to quickly find the limit when the road changes from dirt to asphalt," said Hirvonen, who has finished third in the Spanish WRC event for the last two years.
Latvala, who has provided some of his most competitive performances on asphalt in recent months, is fired up for the Spanish encounter as he looks to build on his current third placing in the WRC's Drivers' Championship.
"The roads here are asphalt in its purest sense and resemble a race circuit. I enjoy it more and more and my driving on it has improved. Sunday's long 42kms stage is probably the best asphalt stage I've driven," said the 25-year-old Finn, who has two WRC wins this season.
To add an extra challenge, the Rally de Espana opening leg will not be completely on gravel. Of the three different stages, one is all-dirt and the other two are mixed, with a higher ratio of loose surface roads. The most demanding will be the opening 35.94kms Terra Alta test which includes frequent changes in surface over three gravel and two asphalt sections.
Abu Dhabi's motorsport ace, Al Qassimi, fresh from competing in the multi-surface Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), is confident that his recent preparations could put him in good stead this weekend, and knows that accurate pace notes will be key.
And with Al Qassimi, who finished 14th at last year's event, only needing four more points to equal his 2009 12th place WRC Drivers' Championship finish, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed driver will be looking for a top 10 place in Spain.
"The fresh set-up for Rally de Espana is all new to me, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team, and the rest of the WRC competitors. We will all be relying on this week's recce to write accurate pace notes and get a feel for how we will approach the surfaces," added Al Qassimi, who returns to Salou, in Spain's Tarragona region, for the fourth time.
"There are still two events left with Spain and the UK, so I want to make sure I'm securing points in both. I know I need to push hard, yet I also know I need to make sure I finish, so balancing the two will be crucial."
Also making the trip to Salou, an hour's drive south-west of Barcelona on the Costa Daurada, will be Team Abu Dhabi Junior Drivers - Bader Al Jabi, Majed Al Shamsi and Khalil Al Shaikh - who remain focused on their assault for the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) series.
After exceptional performances throughout the season, the three members of ADTA's grassroots programme - developed to nurture motorsport talent from within the emirate - travel to Spain with their eyes firmly fixed on a podium spot.
Al Jabri, who already has four consecutive podium finishes in the 2010 FSTi, currently lies second overall, just three points from current leader and rival, England's Harry Hunt. The young Abu Dhabi contender finished the 2009 season in third place and is hopeful that his improving skills on asphalt, his preferred surface, will help him better that result.
"Our idea here in Spain is to continue our competitive campaign to finish in the top three, but a win would really make our season and would be fundamental to our hopes of taking the FSTi title," added the 25 year old Emirati.
The action begins on Friday 22nd October to the west of Salou.