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March 2nd, 2012
Jari-Matti Latvala is confident of extending Ford’s run of gravel victories when the World Rally Championship arrives on Rally Mexico next week.
The Fiesta RS WRC hasn’t been beaten on a loose-surface event since Rally Finland in August, with the M-Sport-built machines winning in Australia, Britain and in Sweden earlier this season.
In preparation for Rally Mexico, Latvala admitted Ford had found the best test site ever for the Leon-based event. Regulations preclude testing outside of Europe, which places a greater emphasis on finding roads locally to replicate the nature of those used in the state of Guanajuato next week.
“The first day [of the test] was as close to Mexican conditions as we have found in Europe at this time of year,” said the 26-year-old Finn. “The surface was the same and the temperature was 24 degrees so it was ideal.”
Latvala completed just over three hundred miles during his two days in the team’s test car, running close to Malaga in southern Spain.
One of the primary focuses in this test was prolonged running to replicate the conditions on what will be the all-important Guanajuatito test on the final day of Rally Mexico. The event’s 22nd stage has been lengthened from last year and now runs at almost 34 miles.
During the test, Latvala drove that distance competitively three times without fault.
“After a few months away from dry gravel,” said Latvala, “it took some time to acclimatise again.”
Latvala handed the Fiesta over to team-mate Petter Solberg who completed his first set-up test on gravel with the car.
“I felt comfortable in the car very quickly, the same as when I tested on asphalt and snow for the first time,” said the 2003 World Rally Champion.
“I started with the same set-up as Jari-Matti and made a few small changes to suit my style. I moved quietly forwards and I’m happy with what I achieved.”
Rally Mexico starts with the qualifying stage on the morning of Thursday 8 March (local time) before the ceremonial start and opening test in the colourful city of Guanajuato.