Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen says next week's Jordan Rally will be one of the toughest events of the year, but the Finn is confident of a stronger showing than the subdued fourth place he managed last time out on the Rally of Mexico.
The Finn said the man-made nature of the Jordan roads made the Dead Sea-based event the among the toughest rallies on which to make the all-important pace notes. Hirvonen's teammate Jari-Matti Latvala admitted he was almost caught out on numerous occasions last season when his notes were not accurate enough.
"It's the most difficult rally of the year on which to make pace notes," said Hirvonen, who lies second in the championship. "Its fast and high-speed sections are punctuated by small crests. But suddenly the rhythm can change and you come over a crest to find a series of hairpin bends. There are no trees or bushes in the desert to use as sight lines so the notes must be pinpoint accurate."
Hirvonen and Latvala both tested for Jordan last week, with the former completing 483 miles while Latvala, who celebrates his 25th birthday on the final day of the event, drove the test Ford for 228 miles in Sardinia. Both drivers are confident they can bounce back from Mexico.
"We've analyzed the reasons why we weren't as competitive as we had hoped on the last round in Mexico and tried a few options during our test in Sardinia," said Hirvonen. "I'm confident we'll be fully competitive in Jordan."
Latvala added: "The roads are man-made in places and it means there is no natural flow to them so they are difficult to follow. They often turn immediately after a crest and I was nearly caught out on a few occasions two years ago. My pace notes were not accurate enough and I need to improve them on next week's recce."
The hard base to the Jordan Rally stages will force crews into a compromised setup which is somewhere between gravel and asphalt.
"The surface is hard and it feels like driving on asphalt," said Hirvonen. "There will be loose gravel on the surface for the first pass through the stages, so the car will need a slightly soft setup. But when the stages are repeated and the roads are clean, the setup will be harder, almost like we use on asphalt.
"There are no ditches there and in some bends it's possible to make big cuts, so we can't make the car too low. It's a compromise setup between gravel and asphalt."
Jordan Rally starts from the shores of the Dead Sea next Thursday morning (April 1).