Ford has completed a seven-day test of its all-new Fiesta RS WRC - with Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala driving the car for the first time and covering more than 1,200 kilometres at competitive speeds.
The test ran on gravel in Spain and France, using a 1.6-litre engine, which is close to the final specification for next season. Both drivers were pleased with their first test in the car they will use to contest next year's World Rally Championship - with Latvala adding that he had never driven a rougher stretch of road in his life. The test car ran without any problems.
Hirvonen began the session last Saturday in northern Spain and drove for three days.The test then moved to southern France where the 30-year-old drove on Wednesday and ended the programme on Friday, clocking up 1000km at the wheel.Latvala drove on Thursday, covering 220km.
"I had looked forward so much to driving the Fiesta RS WRC and I was very satisfied with it," enthused Hirvonen. "It was just as much fun as I hoped and I'm genuinely excited about what we can achieve with it. Of course, there is still a lot of development to do but my first impressions are very good. It has its own unique feel and it's like driving an angry bee!"
Hirvonen said the biggest difference between the Focus he is driving in Catalunya next week and the next generation Fiesta is in the torque from the engine.
"There is less torque from the 1.6 litre engine in the Fiesta than we have from the 2.0-litre unit in the Focus," he said. "It requires a different driving style as a result. The engine needs to be kept at high revs. A slightly more aggressive approach is needed, especially in slower corners, where the driver needs to take command and attack harder, rather than letting the car do the work."
Latvala added: "The road is usually used for testing cars of the type that compete in the Dakar Rally and it was full of big rocks, holes and bumps. It asked a lot of the car, but I pushed hard because the team wanted to see how the Fiesta behaved in those conditions.
"I was impressed and I was pleased at how quickly I found a good feeling at the wheel. The balance felt very good and the engine was better than I expected."
Team principal Malcolm Wilson concluded: "The testing we have done until now was based on durability and obtaining feedback. That raised no major issues and meant we could progress the programme this week by moving onto specific set-up for the car.
"Mikko and Jari-Matti have valuable experience of the rallies in the WRC calendar, and possess the detailed knowledge to provide a base specification from which to fine-tune the set-up from rally to rally.
"The weather in Spain ranged from high temperatures at the start of the week to heavy rain and mud as the test progressed. It wasn't pleasant for the team, but it was perfect for putting the car through its paces in the type of varied conditions we will encounter in the championship next year."