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Ford keen to carry momentum into Alsace asphalt adventure

The final all-asphalt round of the FIA World Rally Championship season in France next week allows Ford World Rally Team the opportunity to further improve its sealed-surface performance. Twelve months after the squad first showed the Fiesta RS World Rally Car’s pace on its least-favoured surface at Rallye de France, the team returns eager to build on a series of podium results.

After leading Rallye Monte-Carlo in January before securing third with Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson, Ford held a comfortable second and third during Rallye Deutschland last month before Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila eventually claimed a career-best second.
This year’s Rallye de France (4 - 7 October) provides a tougher challenge. The Alsace-based event, round 11 of 13, contains almost 70km more action than in 2011 and nearly half the competitive distance is new. Strasbourg, nestled on the German border between the Vosges mountains to the west and the Black Forest to the east, remains the rally hub for a third year.
The Vosges feature strongly in the route as the opening two legs take in speed tests there. The roads vary hugely, blending narrow and bumpy sections through forests with fast and wide parts where speeds top 200kph. In contrast, vineyard tracks and three street venues in the regions towns and cities offer a totally different challenge. 
As always on asphalt, accurate tyre selection will play a huge part. A combination of early autumn and the unpredictability of the weather in the mountains means rain is a distinct possibility. Precise forecasting from Ford’s weather experts and data on conditions from the team’s route note crews, who drive the special stages before the competitors, will be vital in picking the correct tyre compound.   
Latvala prepared for the rally with a day’s single-seater race car training from sports car and ex-Indy Car driver Didier André at the Le Mans Bugatti circuit in France on Wednesday. André, who finished fourth in the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours, worked with Latvala on braking and driving lines before the Finn journeyed to Alsace for a two-day test in a Fiesta RS WRC, which ends tomorrow.
“The weather was mixed which meant I had the advantage of driving on both dry weather slick tyres and wet rubber,” explained 27-year-old Latvala. “I was happy about that because I had to adapt my usual driving line in the rain and that’s something I can use in rallying. When you come across a ‘black top’ shiny surface in stages, you must take a different line to avoid it.”
Latvala, who finished fourth in 2010 and 2011, starts the rally full of confidence after victory in Britain earlier this month and second in Germany in the previous round. “Good results provide confidence and I had strong speed in France last season. I would like to challenge for the top placing. I’m a realist and know how hard that will be on asphalt, but that’s the target,” he said.
“The stages are a mix, quite similar in that respect to the rally in Germany, but the characteristics don’t change as much. There are long corners in the mountains while the French vineyards are wider than those across the border and follow more of a natural line. They’re generally quite grippy and set-up is always a compromise for the different types of road,” added Latvala.
Solberg has a Rallye de France win to his name, having triumphed in 2003 when the event was based on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. His best result in Alsace is third in 2010.
“The roads are quite fast and the surface is good, so tyre wear won’t really be a problem,” said the 37-year-old Norwegian. “The only issue surrounding tyres is understanding the weather and ensuring we make the correct compound choice. It’s not easy, but if conditions are changeable the right tyre options can make the difference between winning and losing here.
“Our speed on the previous asphalt round in Germany was strong. I expected the car to be fast, and it was. I hope we can maintain that progress and be faster still in France to give the fans something to cheer. The crowds have been huge since the rally moved to Strasbourg. There’s a great atmosphere surrounding the event and that’s something that I certainly feel,” added Solberg.   
Team News
* Michelin’s Pilot Sport asphalt tyres will be used by the Ford drivers and will be available in hard compound for dry conditions and soft compound for wet or cold weather. Each driver has an allocation of 24 hard and 20 soft tyres, and can use a maximum of 25 during the rally. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the tyres and each car can carry two spare wheels.
* Six privately-entered crews have also entered Fiesta RS WRCs. Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk and Evgeny Novikov / Ilka Minor are nominated by M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson represent Adapta World Rally Team and Martin Prokop / Zdeněk Hrůza crew the Czech Ford National Team car. Daniel Oliveira / Carlos Magalhaes have been entered by Brazil World Rally Team while French duo Julien Maurin / Nicolas Klinger will drive in their home round.
* The rally also incorporates the fifth and penultimate round of the Ford Racing-supported FIA WRC Academy. Eight young drivers will campaign identical Fiesta R2 cars over the opening two legs of the main event. The series is led by Elfyn Evans / Phil Pugh.
Rally Route
The rally is again based at Strasbourg’s Zénith concert arena but has undergone big changes. The action covers four days, the competitive distance is almost 20 per cent longer and nearly 44 per cent of the stages are new, including two previously-unused tests. A new street stage in Strasbourg, which finishes outside the European Parliament, starts the action on Thursday afternoon. The opening two legs have been switched from 2011, so the first full day heads deep into the Vosges mountains for high altitude tests near Colmar, which hosts a short service midway through. It ends with a street test in Mulhouse. The second leg offers a massive 192.80km of competition through vineyards and mountains closer to Strasbourg, including two passes of the daunting 43.45km Pays d’Ormont. The short final day journeys north and includes two runs through the streets of Haguenau. Drivers tackle 22 tests covering 404.14km in a route of 1404.89km.  
For more information: Contact Mark Wilford or Russell Atkins at the Ford World Rally Team media desk in Strasbourg Tel: + 33 3 88 16 50 96. Images available at 
                                                                 RALLYE DE FRANCE
4 - 7 October 2012
Thursday 4 October: Day 1 Strasbourg - Strasbourg
Start       Strasbourg City                                                                                16.25
SS1        Strasbourg                                                                    3.63km     16.30
Serv A    Strasbourg Zénith (15 mins)                                                            17.03
Finish     Strasbourg Zénith                                                                            17.18
Friday 5 October: Day 1 (continued) Strasbourg - Strasbourg
Serv B    Strasbourg Zénith (15 mins)                                                            07.45
SS2        Hohlandsbourg - Firstplan 1                                     28.67km     09.23
SS3        Vallée de Munster 1                                                   22.16km     10.06
SS4        Soultzeren - Pays Welche 1                                      19.93km     11.22
RSZ C    Colmar (15 mins)                                                                             13.15
SS5        Hohlandsbourg - Firstplan 2                                     28.67km     13.56
SS6        Vallée de Munster 2                                                    22.16km    14.39
SS7        Soultzeren - Pays Welche 2                                       19.93km    15.55
SS8        Mulhouse                                                                       4.65km     18.35
Serv D    Strasbourg Zénith (45 mins)                                                            20.18
Finish     Strasbourg Zénith                                                                             21.03
Total                                                                                            146.17km
Saturday 6 October: Day 2 Strasbourg - Strasbourg
Serv E    Strasbourg Zénith (15 mins)                                                             07.30
SS9        Massif des Grands Crus - Ungersberg 1                18.16km      08.38
SS10      Pays d’Ormont 1                                                         43.45km      09.36
SS11      Pays de la Haute Bruche 1                                        24.04km      10.47
SS12      Klevener 1                                                                   10.75km      11.45
Serv F    Strasbourg Zénith (30 mins)                                                             13.15
SS13      Massif des Grands Crus - Ungersberg 2                18.16km      14.38
SS14      Pays d’Ormont 2                                                         43.45km      15.36
SS15      Pays de la Haute Bruche 2                                        24.04km      16.47
SS16      Klevener 2                                                                   10.75km      17.45
Serv G    Strasbourg Zénith (45 mins)                                                             18.48
Finish     Strasbourg Zénith                                                                              19.33
Total                                                                                           192.80km
Sunday 7 October: Day 3 Strasbourg - Strasbourg
Serv H    Strasbourg Zénith (15 mins)                                                             07.50
SS17      Vignoble de Cleebourg 1                                           17.08km      09.23
SS18      Bischwiller - Gries 1                                                     7.95km      10.46
SS19      Haguenau 1                                                                    5.74km      11.16
SS20      Vignoble de Cleebourg 2                                           17.08km      12.44
SS21      Bischwiller - Gries 2                                                     7.95km      14.07
SS22      Haguenau 2                                                                    5.74km      14.37
Serv I      Strasbourg Zénith (10 mins)                                                             15.37
Finish     Strasbourg Zénith                                                                              16.00
Total                                                                                             61.54km
Rally total                                                                                   404.14km