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Back-to-back victories have rejuvenated BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's world title challenge ahead of next week's journey into uncharted territory in Poland.  Rally Poland (25 - 28 June) is the first of two all-new fixtures in the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship and the last of a compact mid-season flurry of three events in just six weeks.

Wins for Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila in Italy last month and for team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen last weekend in Greece, Ford's 70th world rally victory and the 40th for M-Sport, enabled the consistent Hirvonen to move within just seven points of the lead in the drivers' standings.  Maximum points in the manufacturers' series on both rallies with the Focus RS World Rally Car allowed Ford to close the gap to 15 points with five rounds remaining in the 12-event campaign.

Rally Poland is the second oldest in the world behind the classic Rallye Monte-Carlo, and returns to the series for the first time since 1973 when it formed part of the inaugural FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers.  On that occasion only three of the 62 starters finished the two-day rally that covered 55 speed tests and 750 competitive kilometres – more than twice the length of next week's encounter.

Until 2005 this was an asphalt rally but since then it has been an all-gravel event over fast and flowing roads in the hilly Mazurian Lake District in the north-east of Poland.  Its location means large crowds are expected as fans can gain easy access from across central Europe.  

The special stages are a mix of forest and open countryside and to keep speeds in check organisers will position hay bales at obvious cuts in corners, affecting the natural flow of the tests and rewarding neat and precise driving.  The tracks weave through picturesque green countryside that many have likened to Finland, and while the surface is generally sandy with plenty of loose gravel on top, many roads are harder after extensive improvement programmes.

Hirvonen, whose Greek victory was his eighth WRC success, has watched a DVD of the stages issued by organisers to help competitors understand the nature of the roads ahead of the recce.  "The stages look really fast and very similar to Finland, but without as many crests as we have at home," said the 28-year-old Finn.  "They are medium width and soft in places so they may cut up during the second pass.  There has been a lot of rain in that area recently and the forecast for the rally suggests showers, so the sandy surface could turn very muddy if that is the case."

Hirvonen has a good record on new roads and admits that preparation is vital.  "I know that I make good pace notes for new stages and it's crucial to get them right to have a chance of winning.  The bales must be in exactly the right place for the recce because on fast roads it's vital we know their exact position otherwise the pace notes can be too slow or too fast, and that risks either losing time or making a mistake.

"After Greece, I'm back in the championship fight and the next two events, in Poland and Finland, are on fast gravel roads which should suit me," added Hirvonen.

Latvala, who lies fourth in the drivers' points table, also plans to make good use of the organisers' DVD before the recce.  "After finishing the test this week I have three days before the recce begins so I will take some time to look at the stages closely.  From what I have seen the roads remind me of Finland but the surface appears to be softer.  It appears it may cut up, but because it is sandy it is unlikely there will be rocks in the ruts," said the 24-year-old Finn.

"The recce for a new rally is important.  Normally it should be possible to ensure the pace notes are accurate in the two passes we're allowed.  Of course, there are always a few corners that are not exactly correct but when you consider how many bends we note during a normal two-day recce, this isn't too surprising.

"When using existing notes to practise a stage I can drive a little quicker than when making brand new notes.  It requires much more concentration to make new notes, but it's also easier to make notes for faster roads than it is for slower stages because less information is required," added Latvala.  

Team News

* Tyre partner Pirelli will provide BP Ford Abu Dhabi with just the one regulation tyre pattern.  The Scorpion gravel tyre will be available in soft compound only.  Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber and each car can carry two spare wheels.

* The team has a four-day test in Poland in preparation for the rally.  Latvala's two-day stint ends today (Friday) before Hirvonen takes over for Saturday and Sunday.

* Five other Focus RS WRCs will start.  Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated by the Stobart VK M-Sport squad, which has also entered Krzysztof Holowczyc / Lukasz Kurzeja in their home rally.  Dutch crews Dennis Kuipers / Kees Hagman and Rene Kuipers / Erwin Berkhof will drive privately-entered 2006-specification cars.  The rally is the third round of the Fiesta SportingTrophy and seven Fiesta ST cars have been entered.

Rally Route

Mikolajki, a tourist city known as the Mazurian Pearl, hosts the rally for the third year.  It is situated in the heart of the hilly and forested Mazurian Lake District in the north-east of Poland, 230km north of Warsaw and close to the border with Russia.  The action begins on Thursday evening with a super special stage in Mikolajki, next to the service park, a repeat of which also closes the event on Sunday afternoon.  All three days are based north-east of the town but liaison distances are short and more than 34 per cent of the 1024.38km total route is competitive.  Drivers tackle 18 stages covering 352.00km.   
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