Situated deep in the heart of the Middle East, the inaugural Rally Jordan gets under way today and BP-Ford Abu Dhabi lead driver Mikko Hirvonen admits it will be a draining task to remain fully focused for the entire three days.
Yet, the Finn, who took part in the traditional World Rally Championship shakedown yesterday afternoon and coped admirably, insists his biggest worry is drifting off during his downtime.
“I have had a swim in the Dead Sea – that’s weird. You just float,” he said. “You need to be careful you don’t fall asleep and just drift away.”
There is little chance of the 27-year-old losing focus, however, while racing the man-made track.
Despite some picturesque scenery, the WRC’s newest event has all manner of obstacles lurking on every corner: jagged rocks jut out of the gravel, thorny cacti are strewn across the track and the majority of crests – of which there are many – are concealed from view until the last seconds.
Hirvonen and the other drivers have little experience of competing in such conditions and they know they must concentrate entirely if they are to finish in the points on Sunday.
“It is very draining to stay focused for so long. We have to concentrate a lot on the notes. There are very technical stages, lots of blind crests and you know there is always a corner after them, but you don’t know if it’s 10 metres or 20 metres away so you need to get everything precise.
“Normally I find it easier if you can keep the same rhythm all the time, it’s basically slow or medium or flat-out all the time, but when it’s like this, it’s very tricky. For sure, I think everybody has to try and go flat-out, but the road is cleaning all the time and so the further back you are [in the line-up] the easier it is to drive.”
Meanwhile, Hirvonen, who sits second in the chase for the WRC drivers’ title, has been asking teammate Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi for advice. The Emirati driver won the Jordan edition of last year’s Middle East Rally Championship and was quick to warn Hirvonen and second driver Jari-Matti Latvala of the event’s pitfalls.
“I told them it is very technical and of course it is featureless terrain so it is hard, but everybody has their own strategies,” said Al Qassimi. “I will be driving at 50 per cent because there is less chance of coming off that way, but they might drive at 100 per cent. Last year, I drove at 50 [per cent] and I won. I don’t expect to win this time, but it would be great to get in the points.”
Hirvonen, however, insists anything other than first will be a disappointment for him. “A podium is not going to be enough,” he said. “I need to win this one, but saying that is a lot easier than actually doing it.”