Mikko Hirvonen says a sensible approach to next week's Acropolis Rally could be the way to deliver Ford's first gravel win with the Fiesta RS WRC.
Citroen has won all five of the loose-surface rallies this season, following Hirvonen's success on the season opener in the snows of Sweden. The Acropolis Rally, back after a year's absence last season, is acknowledged as one of the toughest rallies on the calendar, and Hirvonen says the flat-out approach is not always the best.
"If you're lucky you can survive for three days driving flat out from start to finish," said the 30-year-old Finn. "But there are plenty of places where you must be careful and it pays to be smart.
"It's vital to think about how to drive here, as well as doing the actual driving. Ford has always built strong, reliable rally cars and after testing in Greece last month, I know the Fiesta RS WRC lives up to that."
Beyond the rocky roads, the Acropolis also provides a tough physical challenge for the crews.
"The heat is a big challenge," said Hirvonen. It's essential to drink a lot before the rally to be properly prepared. It also helps to be in good physical shape, although that's a requirement for every rally. I plan to do some exercise when I arrive in Greece to help acclimatise to the temperatures there."
Hirvonen's teammate Jari-Matti Latvala added: "Greece is the hardest round of the season. There were many retirements in 2009 due to the rough conditions. There are sections in which the roads are good and can be driven flat-out. But there are also sections, especially in the second leg, where it will be essential to ease the pace to protect the car and tires because of the rocks. The fastest car and driver might not win – it could be the one that is the strongest and cleverest.
"We tested in Greece last month and the Fiesta felt strong on the rocky tracks. We also tested in darkness to prepare thoroughly for the night stage during Saturday's second leg. That test could be decisive. If there is no breeze late in the evening then dust could be a problem for all except the first car in the running order. It could generate a big difference in times."
The Acropolis Rally gets under way from Loutraki next Thursday evening.