World Rally Championship drivers and teams face a fresh challenge in the next round of the 2009 series, the Cyprus Rally
One day will be run on tarmac, and the other two on gravel, and WRC organisers have ruled that cars must run in gravel specification for all three days.
Traditionally, rally cars run with much reduced ride height, bigger brakes and on much stiffer, race car-like, springs on sealed surface events.
They use softer set-ups, greater ride height and long-travel suspension to cope with rocks and ruts on loose-surfaced rallies.
In Cyprus they’ll run in a compromise setting and on gravel tyres.
Ford works drivers, Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, carried out several hundred kilometres of testing on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia to find the best compromise settings for the works Focus RSs.
The test car ran in a gravel specification that combined a lower ride height, similar to that of an asphalt car, with stiffer suspension springs.
“I'm satisfied with what we achieved,” Latvala said. “I've even had the chance to test the car on asphalt in dry and damp conditions because it rained on Thursday afternoon.
“That made the test road very slippery where I'd been cutting corners, but it could rain in Cyprus so that could be a positive for me.
"I've learned that I'm going to have to brake much earlier because there isn't the same grip level with the gravel tyres on asphalt roads and the brakes are smaller.
“You also have to drive in a very straight line and be very neat and precise. It's been very hard on the brakes but the tyres have lasted well.
"We also had the opportunity to drive on gravel for 370km on two very different roads, one very rough and similar to Greek conditions and one very slow and technical and more like Cypriot roads. I feel confident that we're going to Cyprus with a good set-up.”
Hirvonen said that though the temperatures in Sardinia weren’t perhaps as high as they’ll be in Cyprus “everything felt really good.
“The Pirelli tyres worked well on the asphalt roads which was encouraging. It's not the nicest feeling driving like this, but it's going to be a new challenge for everyone and interesting to see how fast we all are on day one.
“It's going to be hard on our brakes, but I feel we've done all we can do to prepare for it.”
The Cyprus Rally runs from March 13-15.