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Following the vehicle’s first public appearance at the Paris Motor Show last month, specific set-up testing has begun for Ford’s new Fiesta RS WRC, with the two Finnish drivers who will be piloting the Ford next season being delighted by the new offering.

Ford’s WRC drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, accompanied by their respective co-drivers Jarmo Lehtinen and Miikka Anttila, took the 2011 world championship challenger out on gravel roads in Spain and France during the seven-day set-up test.

Both Finns will drive Fiesta RS WRCs in all 13 rounds next season, and both had lots of positives to say after the test run.

“I had looked forward so much to driving the Fiesta RS WRC and I was very satisfied with it,” enthused Hirvonen. “It was just as much fun as I hoped and I’m genuinely excited about what we can achieve with it. Of course, there is still a lot of development to do, but first impressions are very good. It has its own unique feel and it’s like driving an angry bee.”

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“The biggest difference between the Fiesta RS WRC and the outgoing Focus RS WRC is the engine. There’s less torque from the Fiesta’s 1.6 litre engine than that available from the 2.0 litre unit in the Focus, so it requires a different driving style as a result.”

“The engine needs to be kept at high revs, and a slightly more aggressive approach is needed, especially in slower corners, where the driver needs to take command and attack harder, rather than letting the car do the work,” Hirvonen added.

Latvala tested on what he described as the ‘roughest rally road on which I’ve ever driven’. “The road is usually used for testing cars of the type that compete in the Dakar Rally and it was full of big rocks, holes and bumps. It asked a lot of the car, but I pushed hard because the team wanted to see how the Fiesta behaved in those conditions,” he said.

“I was impressed and I was pleased at how quickly I found a good feeling at the wheel. The balance felt very good and the engine was better than I expected,” the 25-year-old said.

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The Fiesta RS WRC – having already successfully completed more than 2,500km of durability work, mainly in the hands of P-G Andersson and Matthew Wilson – tested last week was powered by an engine close to the specification in which the car will compete next year. Specialist engineers from Ford and M-Sport as well as Pipo Moteur have worked closely in the development of the 300 hp direct injection 1.6 litre turbocharged unit, which is based on Ford’s EcoBoost road vehicle powertrain.

In a parallel test near M-Sport’s base at Dovenby Hall in north-west England, the definitive 2011-specification engine was also run. This unit is scheduled to power the Fiesta RS WRC when the test programme continues with a three-day session on asphalt in Spain, following Rally de Espana.

The preview model in Paris was finished in a striking blue and grey livery specially developed for the show by Ford of Europe’s design team. The car’s final styling will continue to be worked on until its eventual debut.