STRASBOURG, France - Ford will field its official Fiesta RS World Rally Cars in a stunning black colour scheme for the first time in competition at Rallye de France (29 September - 2 October). Following a concerted campaign by fans on the team’s Facebook page, Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s three cars will carry the livery which proved so popular during testing in France in June.
The design is the same as the Fiesta RS WRCs sported on the opening 10 rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship. However, the car's base colour is black throughout, with white branding on top for Ford and its partners.
Ford received a massive vote of approval after the livery was unveiled in the summer. A Facebook group was set up to petition the team to use the new-look in a rally, and Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn opted for the Strasbourg-based asphalt round.
“We listened to what our fans wanted and discussed the idea with our partners at Abu Dhabi and Castrol,” he said. “They were in favour, and I believe this colour scheme allied with a close-to-the-ground asphalt set-up brings a sexy, mean and moody look to the Fiesta RS WRC. It was one of the potential liveries we discussed when finalising the design for our cars at the start of the year,” he said.
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila journey to the Alsace region in north-east France boosted by a one-two finish in Australia earlier this month. Hirvonen’s third consecutive win Down Under boosted his challenge for the drivers’ championship and the 31-year-old Finn starts only the second asphalt round of the season just 15 points from the lead.
The rally returns to Strasbourg, home of the European Parliament, for a second time after its move away from Corsica last year. The city, located on the German border, nestles between the Vosges mountains to the west and the Black Forest to the east.
The Vosges features strongly in the route, with the opening two legs including special stages in the mountain range. The roads there vary considerably, blending narrow, bumpy sections through forests with fast, wide parts where speeds will near 200kph. In contrast, vineyard roads on flat open plains and two street test locations offer a completely different challenge.
“The stages are bumpy and abrasive in some sections, but the biggest surprise last year was how much we could cut the corners and the amount of mud and dirt that was dragged onto the roads,” said Hirvonen. “They were very messy. I think the organisers are taking steps to prevent so much cutting, but we won’t know what difference that will make until the recce.
“When we check our pace notes in the recce we must be careful in deciding which corners we can cut and which we can’t. Where there is a drop-off from the edge of the road, we must think closely about whether it’s worth risking a puncture by cutting, or not. Winning in Australia removed some pressure, but we must carry that success forward and fight for the championship in the final rounds,” he added.
Hirvonen and Latvala this week shared four days of testing at the Alès circuit, near Nîmes in southern France. Also present was ex-Ford driver Markko Märtin, an acknowledged asphalt expert who won back-to-back victories for the team in France and Spain in 2004.
“We were encouraged by our performance on asphalt in Germany last month when we set some great stage times and were closer to our rivals than previously,” said Latvala. “The results didn’t reflect that because we had some problems, so we want to take that performance a step further and Markko joined us to offer set-up advice. On the first morning I discovered that our set-up was slightly too soft in Germany, so we revised that and the handling immediately felt better.
“The stages in France vary in their nature. Friday’s opening leg contains a mix of mountain roads, forest routes and vineyard tracks, while Saturday’s tests are more mountainous. The weather was wet last year and with a lot of dirt dragged onto the surface from cutting, some of the stages were extremely slippery. It’s not an easy rally,” added 26-year-old Latvala, for whom Rallye de France will mark his 100th WRC start in partnership with Anttila.
Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive the team's other Fiesta RS WRC and the duo are nominated to score for Team Abu Dhabi. This will be Al Qassimi's third Rally de France and he is aiming to build on a best-ever fifth place finish in Australia. “My career-best result in Australia has really brought my season to life. It’s important to now focus on securing more points to achieve my goal of a top 10 season finish,” said Al Qassimi.
* Michelin's Pilot Sport asphalt tyre will be used by the Ford Abu Dhabi drivers and will be available in both hard and soft compounds. Drivers will be allocated a mix of hard and soft tyres for the event. Their selection during the rally, which will depend on the weather and the nature of the road surface, must come from that allocation only. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the tyres and each car can carry two spare wheels.
* Six privately-entered Fiesta RS WRCs supplement the official entries. Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin and Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson are nominated by the M-Sport Stobart Ford team, which has also entered Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor and Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet. Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino will be behind the wheel of the Monster World Rally Team car and Dennis Kuipers / Frederic Miclotte are entered by the FERM Power Tools World Rally Team.
* The rally is the penultimate round of the S-WRC support category. Five registered Ford Fiesta S2000 cars are entered, headed by Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk, who lie second in the championship. It is also the penultimate round of the FIA WRC Academy, the sport's new training programme for young drivers, which is supported by Ford. Seventeen crews will compete over the first two days of the rally in identical Fiesta R2 rally cars, which have been supplied by Ford and prepared by M-Sport. Thirty-eight of the 66 competitors are entered in Ford cars.
The rally retains the same broad format as last year, with Strasbourg’s Zénith concert arena as the base and main service park. The opening two legs have been switched, so after Thursday evening’s start ceremony in the city centre, Friday’s opening leg journeys south-west through vineyards in the Bas-Rhin department and onto the lower slopes of the Vosges mountains. The second day heads deeper into the Vosges for higher altitude tests near Colmar, which hosts a short service midway through the leg. It includes the climb of Le Grand Ballon, the rally’s high point at 1340 metres, and ends with a new street stage in Mulhouse. Most of the short final day north of Strasbourg is new, although the Haguenau street test is retained and the second pass forms the live TV Power Stage with bonus points for the fastest three drivers. The afternoon finish is outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Drivers tackle 23 tests covering 337.43km in a route of 1289.90km.