Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, the third driver for BP Ford Abu Dhabi, has revealed that the entire rally community is staggered by the dominant speed of Citroen this season. The imperious-looking French team, whose garage includes five top-flight entries, have won five of this year's seven rounds and occupied the top two podium places on three occasions in the first half of the WRC's 13-event season.
Ford, meanwhile, have laboured since Mikko Hirvonen, their lead driver, won in Sweden in the opening round. "In reality, Ford are struggling to keep pace with the Citroens this year," said al Qassimi. "They are ahead of us right now and we have found it hard to place in the top four all season. Although the Citroen was lighter in manoeuvrability and stronger in engine power last season, this year I'm shocked at how much faster it is going. Our car isn't going slower, Citroen have just improved more - they've moved up a gear."
With new FIA regulations designed to cut teams' operational costs and attract more manufacturers to rally service parks coming into effect for 2011, al Qassimi believes that Ford already have their eye on next season. "The life of the Focus is over in four months; in six rallies time it will be consigned to history. "It's difficult to invest money when the current car has such a limited lifespan.
"Citroen deserve credit for improving, but maybe Ford are already focusing on 2011's S2000 Fiesta." So strong are the personnel options available to Olivier Quesnel, the Citroen team director, that Sebastien Ogier, the Junior Team driver fresh from clinching a maiden WRC win in May's Rally Portugal, has been promoted to the factory works ranks for the Finnish gravel test. With regular No 2 Dani Sordo, an asphalt specialist, dropped to the junior ranks, Ogier promised to keep the reigning manufacturers' title defence on track.
"Unlike the previous rounds I'm going to have to drive my rally in view of scoring points for the manufacturers' title," said Ogier. "The aim is a little different but the approach is the same." email@example.com