The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team heads for Corsica and the eleventh round of the 2015 World Rally Championship season.
After spending five years on the roads of Alsace between 2010 and 2014, including three memorable wins for Citroën Racing, the Rallye de France heads back to Corsica at the start of October. One of the oldest events in world rallying, the Tour de Corse returns in a classic configuration.
For the Versailles-based team, this return to Corsica brings back many fond memories: a World Championship win in 1999 for Philippe Bugalski and Jean-Paul Chiaroni, the first WRC win for the Xsara of Jesus Puras and Marc Marti in 2001, the first world title for Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena in 2004 and Loeb and Elena’s historic clean sweep, when the pair won every stage at the 2005 rally.
Far from the petal-like itineraries typical of WRC rounds since 1997, the route is as innovative as it is emblematic of the history of the “Ten Thousand Turns Rally”. The crews will complete a tour of the island with the service park based in Corte. However, each day will be a genuine leg, from Ajaccio to Bastia on Friday, from Bastia to Porto-Vecchio on Saturday and from Porto-Vecchio to Ajaccio on Sunday.
So I’m pleased to be back in Corsica, even though preparations for the rally have been very unusual.
This new configuration has called for a lot of work in terms of logistics in order to support the team’s efforts and follow the movements of the drivers throughout the three days of racing. From a sporting perspective, Rally Corsica is set to offer very different conditions to those on the other rounds on the WRC calendar.
A unique, traditional world championship event, the Tour de Corse features a completely revamped course. The event is made up of only nine stages – contested without the crews knowing each other’s split times – and the drivers will have to contend with some very long tests, of up to 48 kilometres.
The roads are just a series of bends on which the DS 3 WRCs will never hit top speed. And more than anything else, the island’s weather is particularly unpredictable in early autumn. A new high of 35°C was set just a few days ago, but storms are never far away, especially in the mountains, with one section peaking at over 1,300 metres above sea level.
Given the challenge posed by tarmac stages of over thirty kilometres, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s technical unit has scheduled three days of pre-event testing in preparation for the rally. The aim is to fine-tune the set-up of the DS 3 WRCs with the Michelin Pilot Sport tyres used this season. The car has to be efficient on the most uneven sections and maintain its balance over long distances. The consistency of the handling will be one of the key factors in determining driver performance.
Forced to withdraw from Rally Australia after suffering an accident during recce, Mads Østberg has recovered from his injuries in time to compete. Required to rest for around ten days, he resumed normal activities a week before the start of the Tour de Corse. Pre-event testing scheduled for this Friday will give him the opportunity to get back up to speed behind the wheel of a WRC before beginning recce on Monday, whilst Jonas Andersson has made a full recovery following the accident.
Kris Meeke is familiar with the previous configuration of the Tour de Corse, having competed here on three occasions in two-wheel drive cars. In securing a podium-finish at Rally Australia, Kris finally turned a series of good performances into a result and established himself as the leading British driver in the championship standings. In Corsica, he returns to a surface on which he has become accustomed to doing well.
As was the case in Germany and Australia, the two Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers will be accompanied by Stéphane Lefebvre. The young Frenchman has once again been given a drive in a DS 3 WRC as he continues to learn about world rallying. He won the Junior European Rally Championship last year in Corsica.
Yves Matton (Citroën Racing Team Principal): “We are treating the Tour de Corse like a new round on the WRC calendar. Its unusual format makes it a different rally; we started planning for it several months ago. The spread-out nature of the course, especially as regards the parc ferme, is something we needed to analyse in order to factor in all the potential situations. Apart from the logistics side of things, the event isn‘t that different from the others and we always set our sights pretty high on tarmac. Citroën Racing has a lot of experience on this type of event. We’ll fine tune the set-up of our DS 3 WRCs in pre-event testing and then treat the rally with the respect it deserves. The Tour de Corse remains a tough event, but we’ll be looking to collect a large haul of points. Kris and Mads will need to make the most of the performance of their cars and be very competitive right from the start of the race. We may adapt our strategy, depending on how the rally unfolds. By the end, we need to take points off our direct rivals in the manufacturers’ championship.”
Mads Østberg: “I have some very fond memories of the last time I competed in Corsica in a WRC. The roads are fantastic and very technical. It’s just one turn after another with loads of grip. So I’m pleased to be back in Corsica, even though preparations for the rally have been very unusual. Ordinarily, before each event, I do physical training, I work on my pace notes and look at on-board footage… This time, all I could do was rest. To be perfectly honest, I was really bored! Since Monday, I have felt more optimistic, because I have been able to start living normally again. I can drive now. I’m determined and I can’t wait to get back in the car. My aim is secure a top-five finish and defend my position in the championship.”
Kris Meeke: “It’s a new rally, really. I’m pleased to be back in Corsica, because this is a legendary World Championship venue. From what I have seen of the route, the roads should be less typically Corsican in most places than they are around Ajaccio. Although there are still a few narrow, bumpy sections elsewhere, the stages are wider, on the whole. And that just makes me even keener to get started because I love driving on tarmac. There are only nine stages, but they are very long and the weather could influence the outcome of the race. Our pre-event testing will give us the chance to define the set-up and work on the tyres. I am going to try to drive at my own pace and, if things goes well, we should be in a position to fight for a place on the podium.”
Stéphane Lefebvre: “We are going to try and do well at the return of this legendary rally to the world stage. The aim is to confirm and build on our performances in Germany and Australia. We have to up the pace but keep out of trouble. I don’t feel like I’m starting from scratch, because I’ve already found my bearings in the car. Having said that, the course is very different to Germany and is obviously nothing like Australia. But at least I’m on the pace! The rally starts for us with pre-event testing. We’ll need to pinpoint the areas that need improvement and make progress quickly. After finishing in the top 10 in Germany, I would like to move up the standings a little bit. I know that the pace will be very high, so it’s up to me to step up to the challenge. My goal is nonetheless to keep learning and finding my bearings so that I can be competitive if I get the chance to come back next year.”
The Tour of Corsica
By maintaining just the one service park, based in Corte in the middle of the island, the organisers of the Tour de Corse have designed an itinerary of three distinct legs.
From Ajaccio to Bastia, from Bastia to Porto-Vecchio and from Porto-Vecchio to Ajaccio, the crews will only have nine stages to complete…
After three days of recce, the drivers will take on the shakedown on the Poggio di Venaco test (3.88km) on Thursday morning, completing a minimum of three mandatory runs from 8am onwards.
The rally will officially get underway on Friday morning at 8am opposite the Palais des Congrès in Ajaccio. The first tyre choice will be made at the airport before the crews tackle Plage du Liamone – Sarrola-Carcopino (29.12km) an hour later. After a first service period in Corte, the afternoon will feature two long stages, Casamozza – Ponte Leccia (43.69km) and Francardo – Sermano (36.43km), before a flexi-service and the end of the leg in Bastia.
From Place Saint-Nicolas, the crews will then set off on Saturday morning for Casamozza – Ponte Leccia (43.69km) and Francardo – Sermano (36.43km) before service in Corte. The longest stage of the rally, Muracciole – Col de Sorba (48.46km), which peaks at 1,300 metres above sea level, will be the only timed stage of the afternoon. It will be followed by another flexi-service, with the leg concluding in Porto-Vecchio.
On Sunday, the crews make an early start, setting off at 6.45am for three stages without a service break. The drivers will choose their tyres for Sotta – Chialza (36.71km) and Zérubia – Martini (41.46km) before being able to change them ahead of the Power Stage (Bisinao – Agosta Plage, 16.74km), which will be broadcast live on television from 12 midday. The rally is scheduled to finish in Ajaccio at 1.05pm.
In France, the rally will be shown live and in full on the subscription channel Canal + Sport.