Ford's quartet tuned up to strike the right note in Istanbul
The Four Lads and They Might Be Giants enjoyed musical success with 'Istanbul (not Constantinople)' in 1953 and 1990 respectively. BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's four lads – Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo
Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila – will be giants in Turkey's largest city if they can record a hit in the FIA World Rally Championship there next week.
Istanbul, officially known as Constantinople until 1930, hosts the Rally of Turkey (15 - 18 April) which returns to the series after a year's absence. Formerly based in Kemer on Turkey's south coast, the rally has moved north to the world's fifth largest city. Its location, bridging both sides of the Bosphorus River at the gateway between Europe and Asia, means the fourth round of the 13-event series will be the first to span two continents.
Apart from roads that they have never seen before, there will be plenty more for Ford's Finns to get used to in their Focus RS World Rally Cars. The rally is the first to take advantage of new rules for 2010 allowing mixed surface speed tests. It is essentially a gravel event, but almost a third of the second leg is asphalt. Both the gravel and asphalt must be tackled using Pirelli's Scorpion gravel tyres, placing a strong emphasis on their performance over the sealed surface sections.
In contrast to the slow and rocky tracks in the mountains high above Kemer, the undulating special stages north-east of Istanbul between the Marmara and the Black Seas, are fast and smooth. The roads are also wide, but drivers hoping to cut corners to shave tenths of a second from their stage times must be wary of large rocks which frequently line the edge of the tracks. Heavy rain in the area has left many roads wet and muddy which could add yet another challenge to the rally.
Hirvonen lies third in the drivers' championship and the 29-year-old is focused on emulating his victory in 2008 on the rally's last WRC appearance.
"I enjoy competing on new rallies. It's a new challenge, both in driving the stages and in preparing pace notes during the recce," he said. "I have a good record on rallies that are new to the championship. Last year I won in Poland and Australia, and in previous years I also won in Norway and Jordan when they were held for the first time. I'm not sure why that is, but if I can extend that record in Turkey then I'll be delighted.
"I made a silly mistake in Jordan and I must recover from that in Turkey so the gap at the top of the drivers' championship doesn't grow. This is the first rally to use proper mixed surface stages since the new rules came in and it will bring something different to the event. Mixed stages haven't been allowed for several years but they used to be a regular part of the WRC. It's another new challenge and I'll think about how to handle the asphalt sections before the start," added Hirvonen.
Latvala was runner-up to Hirvonen in 2008 and the 25-year-old is keen to continue his strong start to the season, which has lifted him to second in the drivers' standings and helped BP Ford Abu Dhabi into second in the manufacturers' championship. He is well aware of the difficulties that the weather and mixed surface stages could bring.
"When I drove in Italy early in my career there were many mixed surface stages," he said. "I don’t mind if the asphalt sections are slow, but it's more difficult driving on fast asphalt with gravel tyres. The car moves around with a gravel set-up and if it is wet then judging the braking points will be tricky. It's better if the asphalt comes at the end of a group of stages because the tyres are worn and like slick rubber. They grip better and the car doesn't move so much.
"But in Turkey most of the asphalt is at the beginning of the first stage in a group, so there will be no chance to wear the tyres. Anyway, I'll need to retain the grip with so many gravel kilometres left.
"Obviously we must make new pace notes. I chose to do the same on the last round in Jordan, and that's the most difficult rally in the championship on which to write notes, so I hope it will be easier in Turkey. The stages aren't too long which is good. The longer the stages, the harder it is to make notes because the concentration periods are longer," added Latvala.
* Tyre partner Pirelli will provide BP Ford Abu Dhabi with one regulation tyre pattern. The Scorpion gravel tyre will be available in hard compound only. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber and each car can carry two spare wheels.
* Ford cars comprise more than a third of the rally's 44 entries with 15 vehicles sporting the Blue Oval. Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated by the Stobart M-Sport Ford team in Focus RS WRCs, while Federico Villagra / Jorge Perez Companc will drive for the Munchi's Ford squad in a similar car. Monster World Rally Team will field Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino for their second outing of the season in another Focus RS WRC. Two Fiesta S2000 crews will start and the rally also marks the opening round of the Fiesta SportTrophy International.