Leaders face up to Corsica's twists and turns FIA World Rally Championship leaders Ford Martini face their second asphalt event of the month and probably their most difficult challenge from the three remaining rounds when the series moves to the...
Leaders face up to Corsica's twists and turns
FIA World Rally Championship leaders Ford Martini face their second asphalt event of the month and probably their most difficult challenge from the three remaining rounds when the series moves to the rocky Mediterranean island of Corsica. Tortuously twisty and narrow mountain roads where the weather can switch from sunshine to showers in minutes are the hallmarks of the Tour of Corsica (19 - 21 October), round 12 of 14, and the final asphalt rally of the season.
The Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars of Colin McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist, Carlos Sainz and partner Luis Moya and François Delecour and co-driver Daniel Grataloup displayed much improved asphalt form in Italy earlier this month to extend the team's lead in the manufacturers' title fight. Along with tyre partner Pirelli, they must continue that progress on the French island to consolidate their advantage before the final two gravel rounds in Australia and Britain.
The rally is later in the year than ever before in its 45-year history, increasing the possibility of unpredictable weather amid the mountain summits and placing an increased emphasis on accurate tyre selection. Choosing the correct rubber for speed tests, often two hours apart, in which conditions may vary considerably requires the skills of a weather forecaster, the knowledge of experienced tyre engineers and, quite often, a slice of luck.
McRae, joint leader of the drivers' championship and Corsica winner in 1997 and 1998, is realistic about his ambitions. "As in Italy it'll be difficult against the asphalt specialists and it's not hard to see them dominating again," said the Scot. "The asphalt on Corsica is more abrasive than in Italy which should suit us and if we can keep the points tally moving it'll be good in championship terms for Ford and myself.
"I think there's still four drivers with a chance of the title. Carlos hasn't made any mistakes all season while Richard Burns isn't out of it and could be the toughest of all because the final round is in Britain at the end of the year. Tommi Mäkinen, like us, will be happy that the final two rounds are on gravel where his car should perform better," added 33-year-old McRae.
Sainz, the only one of the drivers' title contenders to score in Italy, has an amazingly consistent record in Corsica. One victory and three runners-up places head an impressive record of 12 finishes from 13 starts.
"It's a rally I always enjoy," he said. "The weather can be tricky and possibly even more so this season as it's later in the year. It's quite a difficult rally because the roads are so twisty. One win from any of the last three rounds and consistent finishes on the other two for one of the title contenders could be enough to settle the drivers' series but I think it will all be decided on the final round in Britain."
Delecour is regarded as a Corsican expert. Winner in 1993, the 39-year-old Frenchman has also finished second on four occasions and is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to add to his tally.
"The rally is late in the year, it could rain more and in those conditions I think the Focus RS and Pirelli's tyres could be very competitive," he said. "I would like it to rain all rally and I would be quite confident in that weather. The rally is not like it was five years ago but all the stages are familiar and the route looks fantastic. The stages the organisers have chosen are superb. I know all of them and I like the look of this rally very much."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson has clear targets for the rally. "We've set a goal of five points for the manufacturers' championship and if we can achieve that then we'll go into the final two rounds in a very strong position. The outcome of the title will then be in our own hands," he said.
FIA Super 1600 Championship
Ford's 'young guns', bidding for success in the junior world championship category, line up for the second time in consecutive world rallies for the penultimate round of the newly introduced series. Six Ford Pumas will be in action in Corsica, their drivers boosted by a 100 per cent finishing record for the car in Italy. Belgian driver Francois Duval, second in Italy and fifth in the championship, is likely to the front-running Puma driver again while Norwegian Martin Stenshorne, third in the championship but more at home on gravel, will aim to maintain his consistent form.
Challenge of the Tour of Corsica
The rally has long carried the nickname The Rally of 10,000 Corners. The reduction in length means that tag is probably not true any longer but the thinking behind it remains valid. There are few straights and corner follows corner as the island roads wind their way around the craggy Corsican rock faces.
The constant twists and turns mean more pace note information is required by the drivers to ensure they have as much knowledge as possible about the road ahead. However, there is a fine balance between providing sufficient detail and having so much information that the co-driver cannot read it all in time for the driver to respond.
"In Corsica there are many things that create added difficulties in compiling pace notes that you don't get elsewhere," said Grist. "There's a lot of loose stones on the roads and because livestock lives in the open in the mountains you often find dirt as well. It's important to pick up this information during the recce because the roads are so twisty there is no time to see the hazards before you come across them."
Organisers have introduced major changes to make this year's rally the shortest in the 28-year history of the world championship at just 891.59km. The route never extends more than 30km from the Ajaccio base and the stages in the centre of the island around Corte have been dropped. The first two legs run north-east and south-east of the town while the final leg is based to the south. Just eight stages, each run twice, comprise the route and drivers face 394.04km of competition, the second leg the longest with 155km of stages.