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With just over a week until Repco Rally Australia (3-6 September) on the Tweed Coast (New South Wales), the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team is confident of scoring their fifth straight win of the World Rally Championship (WRC) and a unique double down under.

Rally Australia was last held outside Perth in 2006, and on that occasion Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen scored their first ever victory in the WRC. Since then Hirvonen and Lehtinen have gone to score a total of 10 wins in the world’s premier production car based motor sports series. Heading to the far north coast of NSW the BP Ultimate-backed duo are leading this year’s title chase.

The Hirvonen/Lehtinen partnership has hit the lead in the WRC standings off the back of three straight wins in Sardinia (Italy), Poland and at their home event in Finland. Winning in the Rally Finland was a lifelong dream for the duo, with an estimated quarter of the country’s population heading out to the forests to watch the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Championship Team it clearly lived up to expectations.

Hirvonen and Lehtinen, along with fellow factory supported driver Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila will enjoy an unparalleled level of support for Rally Australia. Over 70 people will travel with the team from the team’s base in the north of England. Sea freight has travelled directly from Rally Argentina (which ran in April) with seven 40ft containers.

Two hold the eight reconnaissance cars; one is a workshop for the technicians on the event; one is a management office at one end and a kitchen for the chef at the other end; two hold all the equipment needed to set up a service park (pop-ups, ground sheets, toolboxes and associated equipment); and the final container holds wheels and a work area for the tyre engineers on the event. Airfreight from the UK – includes six WRC cars (both for the factory and customer teams) that are sent on pallets weighing a total of 12 tonnes. There is also 10 tonnes of additional airfreight which is last minute equipment, tools, PR equipment and spare parts.

As well as the on-ground resources the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team also sent Chief Tyre Technician George Black to view the Tweed Coast region in August 2008 after contesting the Repco Rally New Zealand. Black collected information on the composition of the competitive stages as well as other information on the region, including the roads and the weather conditions.

Another member of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team who has experience of rallying in NSW is Team Principal Malcolm Wilson. Wilson campaigned a very quick Ford Escort on the NSW Central Coast in 1983 and ’84. Wilson went on to contest a range of events in the WRC before taking the helm of the Ford WRC program in 1997 through his motor sports preparation business M-Sport. Together with BP/Castrol, M-Sport captured the Manufacturers’ titles in 2006 and ’07.

Mikko Hirvonen:

“I love Australia. They are nice, friendly and easy going people like me! I love the country too. Especially out of the towns and cities and into the countryside, it's really beautiful. I've been to Sydney before and the Gold Coast once. I was there for a week a few years ago and I'm really looking forward to going back.”

“I think my chances are as good as they are on any rally to be honest. It's brand new and I don't know 100% what to expect. I know I won the event back in 2006 but the roads over on the west coast are very different to what we're going to experience on the east coast. It's a gravel surface which suits me and I'm hoping to do well. As I'm leading the championship I'm going to be first on the road on the Friday which won't be easy. It will be easier for me if the roads are wet. It would be great to win the event but I'm thinking the same as I was going into Rally Finland. I need to try and win but if I can't win, then I need to get as many points as possible - zero points and the fight is over for me for this year.”

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson:

“I'm looking forward to going back to the east coast of Australia. I haven't been since I competed there in the 1983 ‘84. That was further south at Gosford near Sydney. I'm sure we'll get the same warm welcome as we did on west coast. It's going to be interesting going to an event with so many stages which is different to a current WRC format. That's going back to the way it used to be with lots of stages during a three-day event.”

“We feel that Mikko is in a strong position to be able to challenge for the drivers' championship and the manufacturers' title is not out of reach. Prior to Sardinia in May it was looking difficult but the incredible thing about this sport is it can change so quickly. And it certainly has for us! We've hauled ourselves up after Sardinia to now being in a good position for both championships. In an ideal world Mikko needs to finish ahead of Sebastien Loeb in Australia. I'm certainly feeling more confident about drivers' championship with only three events remaining this year.”

WRC Drivers' standings
1. M Hirvonen     68pts
2. S Loeb     65pts
3. D Sordo     44pts
4. J-M Latvala     31pts
5. H Solberg     27pts
6. P Solberg     25pts

WRC Manufacturers' standings
1. Citroen     119pts
2. BP Ford Abu Dhabi     105pts
3. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford    64pts
4. Citroen Junior 33pts
5. Munchi's Ford     20pts 
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