Mikko Hirvonen will contest next month's Monte Carlo Rally in the Fiesta S2000. The Finn's participation in the opening IRC round of the season was confirmed this morning.
This will also be the first time the M-Sport-built machine has been used in anger. It made its public debut on last month's Rally of Scotland, where it was driven as zero car by Matthew Wilson. Hirvonen drove the car for the first time at a test in the south of France earlier this week.
"The Fiesta S2000 looks and sounds fantastic. It's great to finally drive it, be part of the development of a totally new car, and I was surprised how quickly I got used to driving it," Hirvonen said. "I was impressed by how good the setup and the chassis are and that allowed me to push really hard straight away.
"The conditions here in France have been difficult, but even with a changing grip level I have been able to drive in a very committed way. It's been great to work with Christian [Loriaux, M-Sport technical director] and the team and to have had a positive input to the new project.
"I've driven the Monte Carlo Rally five times previously, so I'm familiar with the roads and the conditions. There are almost four months between the final round of 2009 and the start of the 2010 season, so this will be ideal for getting my mind back into competition mode."
With the Fiesta due to be homologated in January, the French Alpine event provided the perfect place to measure the latest Super 2000 car against its competition.
M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson said: "Ford has a long association with the Monte Carlo Rally, which we won in 2006 with Marcus Gronholm in a Focus RS World Rally car. It remains a legendary event and will provide spectators with an exciting chance to see the Fiesta S2000 in competitive action over classic stages such as the Col de Turini. Competition is the true challenge for any new car, and Mikko's feedback on its performance will prove valuable for our development program," he added.
Ford's motorsport chief Gerard Quinn said Hirvonen's Monte entry made sense, allowing the Finn competition time ahead of the opening round of the World Rally Championship in Sweden a month later.
"The 2010 WRC season begins almost a month later than usual, so the Monte Carlo Rally will provide a perfect warm-up for Mikko," said Quinn. "It's also a great test opportunity. Road conditions usually vary between dry asphalt and snow or ice. There are four asphalt rallies in the 2010 series, so it will give Mikko valuable practice on that surface. If the weather is wintry, it will also be a good rehearsal for the WRC's first round in Sweden."
The Monte Carlo Rally will take place from Jan. 19-23.