Rallye de France - 46th Inmarsat Tour de Corse Round 3 of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship 8-10 March 2002 After icy asphalt and snow, the FIA World Rally Championship switches to the daunting roads of Corsica for its third round, the Tour...
Rallye de France - 46th Inmarsat Tour de Corse
Round 3 of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship
8-10 March 2002
After icy asphalt and snow, the FIA World Rally Championship switches to the daunting roads of Corsica for its third round, the Tour de Corse, which starts from Ajaccio tomorrow morning. The Mediterranean island's mountain roads are notoriously twisty and feature some of the biggest drops in the entire world championship, and nerves will be strained further by the fact that the event should mark the first true benchmark on asphalt this season. The generally unpredictable Corsican weather always has the potential to turn the event into a lottery, however.
Peugeot's Gilles Panizzi has a formidable record on asphalt and the Frenchman has been tipped by many to give the current manufacturers' series leaders their second win in a row, but he is likely to face stiff opposition from other factory entries - and the privately-run Citroen Xsara WRC of Philippe Bugalski. The former French champion's car will run in a similar specification to the Xsara that took Jesus Puras to victory in Corsica less than six months ago. There are unknown quantities in the manufacturer ranks, however - both Subaru and Hyundai launch their latest evolution models on this event.
PEUGEOT (1st - 20 points)
Technical: Peugeot has made no significant changes to the 206 WRCs for this rally - indeed, all three of the factory cars have been used before and Marcus Grönholm will be driving the same 206 that brought him victory in Finland last year. All three 206 WRCs will use completely 'active' differential systems, while Richard Burns's and Gilles Panizzi's cars are almost certain to start with hydraulic anti-roll bars. Peugeot engineers have made some changes to Burns's seating position and the floor height of his car, as they try to make the reigning world champion more comfortable in the 206.
Sporting: For the world championship's return to asphalt, Peugeot has brought back French specialist Gilles Panizzi for this event. The former Sanremo and Corsica winner will team up with Richard Burns and Marcus Grönholm. The team's fourth regular driver, Harri Rovanperä, will use a 206 WRC run by private team Bozian.
Quotes: Richard Burns said: "We actually discovered that when I was braking, the heel of my foot wasn't touching the floor which lost me another 'point of reference' with what the 206 was doing beneath me. The team have made adjustments to the seat, of course, but they've also tried to raise the floor slightly to improve the feedback. I'm not sure what's possible here - if it stays dry then the easier a car is to drive, the better, because you'll be able to stay totally committed when you need to."
Marcus Grönholm said: "The car feels good here, but I don't know if it will be possible to fight for the win. I think Gilles and probably Philippe Bugalski will be too fast for me. But as for the rest, I think we can possibly fight for a podium finish."
Ford (2nd - 16 points) Technical: Ford sends three previously-used Focus WRC02s to this event, although the team has made some of the planned changes to the car. Most modifications have centred on saving weight, with the biggest benefit coming via a lightened cross member. Other changes - including a new roll cage and the much-publicised 'lowering' of Nicky Grist's seat - McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin. A fourth 2001-spec car will be driven by young Belgian François Duval.
Quotes: Carlos Sainz said: "Rain would be a help to us here but it doesn't look as though we're going to get it. The car is definitely better on asphalt than it was late last year, but a lot will depend on the tyres as well. If conditions are good for us then we can challenge, but if not then it will be difficult."
Colin McRae said: "We've made some improvements to the car's suspension and it's handling a bit better now on asphalt. We're still getting used to some of the new Pirelli tyres but we'll just have to wait and see how they compare to the rest before we know if we can really fight here or not. I think some points from this event would be a good result for us."
SUBARU (3rd - 12 points)
Technical: Subaru introduces the latest version of its Impreza World Rally Car in Corsica. Described by the team's technical chief David Lapworth as 'an evolution, not a revolution', the WRC2002 features four main changes in the engine bay. The exhaust manifold's position has been altered slightly to boost power, while there are also modifications to the turbo housing, flywheel (now lightened) and the water injection system. Subaru has also altered the 'splitter lip' at the front of the car - the new design gives a slight improvement in aerodynamics but is mainly designed to be more resilient when cars cut corners.
Sporting: Subaru enters two Impreza WRC2002s in Corsica, for regular drivers Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg. Mäkinen is again navigated by Kaj Lindstrom, since his usual co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki continues to recover from the injuries he sustained in their accident in Corsica last year. Mannisenmaki will sit in a rally car again for the first time on a Catalunya Rally test immediately after this event, but it's still unclear if he will return to competition in Spain.
Quotes: Tommi Mäkinen said: "The new car gives me a good feeling - it's just a little bit better in a few areas. The difference is very small but there is definitely an improvement and that's the important thing. A lot will depend here on how the Pirelli tyres work against the Michelins, and how the weather develops over the weekend."
Petter Solberg said: "The car is just a small difference over the old one - there's no such thing as making big gains these days, so we didn't expect it. But I can feel some changes in how it handles and how the engine responds. I'm looking forward to this event."
MITUSBISHI (4th - 3 points)
Technical: Mitsubishi Ralliart makes few changes to the Lancer Evo WRCs for this event - during extensive pre-event testing, the team has concentrated on fine-tuning the car's suspension and damper settings. Both Alister McRae and François Delecour have given positive feedback on the changes, although both admit that more work is necessary. McRae gets a brand new car for Corsica.
Sporting: After fielding three cars in Sweden, Mitsubishi reverts to its regular two-Lancer line-up for Corsica, with Alister McRae and François Delecour behind the wheel.
Quotes: Alister McRae said: "It's hard to say what we can achieve here - obviously we were closer to the pace in Sweden than we were in Monte Carlo, but we're still learning a lot about the car on dry asphalt so it'll be hard to challenge. We've made some improvements but other teams are introducing virtually new cars here, so we'll have to wait and see how we compare to them."
François Delecour said: "The car is feeling better now than it has done on asphalt before - it's still not perfect and we have a lot of work left to do, but the work on the suspension has made it more stable over the bumpier sections. The areas where we need to work are on turn-in, because there's still a bit of understeer, and in the engine response."
HYUNDAI (5th - 1 point)
Technical: Hyundai introduces the latest evolution of its Accent World Rally Car in Corsica. The team hopes that the Accent WRC3 will be a major step forward over its predecessor - more than 80 percent of the car is revised or new. Major modifications include work on the engine to improve the airflow and the turbocharger's performance. The engine's internal parts have also been lightened to reduce inertia. Drivers have reported better power, more torque and a wider powerband as a result. Hyundai's rally partner Motor Sport Developments has also revised the Accent's suspension geometry to make the car more stable, and improved brake effectiveness and cooling.
Sporting: Hyundai fields three Accent WRC3s in Corsica - regulars Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix are joined by former Polish F2 champion Tomasz Kuchar on his first outing in a factory team. The 25-year old will tackle a four-event programme with Hyundai this season. Loix has achieved his goal of appearing in Corsica without the need for either crutches or extra protection around the foot that he injured in a Monte Carlo Rally accident. He created extra work for the Hyundai mechanics this morning, though, by rolling his car at the pre-event shakedown.
Quotes: Freddy Loix said: "My foot feels not too bad at all, and I'm pleased to have made it here without the crutches or the protection. What we really need here is to show similar or better speed that we had in Sweden, but to get to the finish. The car has felt very good in testing - the engine certainly feels stronger, so I'm optimistic. The accident today was down to having a bit too much speed into one corner - we slid onto the grass and then there was a little mound of earth which sent us into a roll."
Armin Schwarz said: "The engine is a big improvement - not just in horsepower and torque but also the driveability, and I think that is almost the most important thing of all. I think the team's goal of fourth in the manufacturers' championship is certainly achievable, if we get good reliability and speed from the car - and the drivers."
Technical: Skoda has made few major changes to the Octavia for Corsica, although this is the first time that the team will run the car with three 'active' differentials (previously the rear differential had lacked computer control). Kenneth Eriksson and Toni Gardemeister will both use brand new cars, while Roman Kresta will use an older, updated model.
Sporting: Skoda brings back the young Czech driver, Roman Kresta, for the Tour de Corse. He'll team up with the manufacturer's two regular drivers, Kenneth Eriksson and Toni Gardemesiter. Kresta hit problems at this morning's shakedown when he had a small accident, but his car will be ready for tomorrow morning's start regardless.
Quotes: Kenneth Eriksson said: "It's going to be as hard a rally as ever for us. The narrow mountain roads are very tricky and the Octavia's a big car. But if we have a clean run here then anything is possible. We're learning more about the car all the time and the new type of differential helps too."
Citroen is not sending any works Xsara WRCs to this event, but the team's regular driver Philippe Bugalski will use a Xsara WRC run by Spanish private team Piedrafita.
The Tour de Corse has attracted a strong contingent of non-works World Rally Cars. Bugalski and Rovanperä aside, drivers like Bruno Thiry and Achim Mortl (Peugeot 206 WRCs) will have high hopes of inching into the top ten to fight for points.
The event is also a round of the FIA Production Cars World Rally Championship for more standard vehicles. Favourites for the category will include Hamed al Wahaibi, Ramon Ferreyros and Gustavo Trelles. Italian driver Alex Fiorio will not be starting, however - the former category champion was injured in a road accident in Italy last weekend and he is unlikely to be fit enough to return to driving until at least one month.
__________________________________________________________________ <pre> STAGE ITINERARY
Leg 1, Friday 8th March (334.32km)
08:56 SS 1 Cuttoli - Peri 17.72km 09:44 SS 2 Ocana - Radicale 28.64km 11:55 SS 3 Petreto - Ampaza 36.73km 14:04 SS 4 Cuttoli - Peri 17.72km 14:52 SS 5 Ocana - Radicale 28.64km
Leg 2, Saturday 9th March (363.34km)
09:24 SS 6 Petreto - Ampaza 36.73km 11:40 SS 7 Gare de Carbuccia - Gare d^ÒUcciani 10.66km 12:05 SS 8 Vero - Pont d'Azzana 18.28km 12:40 SS 9 Lopigna - Sarolla 30.11km 15:01 SS 10 Gare de Carbuccia - Gare d^ÒUcciani 10.66km 15:26 SS 11 Vero - Pont d'Azzana 18.28km 16:01 SS 12 Lopigna - Sarolla 30.11km
Leg 3, Sunday 10th March (240.37km)
09:29 SS 13 Coti Chiavari - Pietra Rossa 24.21km 10:05 SS 14 Pont de Calzola - Agosta Plage 31.79km 12:07 SS 15 Coti Chiavari - Pietra Rossa 24.21km 12:43 SS 16 Pont de Calzola - Agosta Plage 31.79km 14:26 Finish of the rally in Ajaccio