2002 World Rally Championship Round 3: Tour de Corse (March 8th-10th 2002) As tough as asphalt gets Just two rounds into the 2002 season, the WRC calendar marked an exceptionally long pause of close to five weeks after Sweden, a break ...
2002 World Rally Championship
Round 3: Tour de Corse (March 8th-10th 2002)
As tough as asphalt gets
Just two rounds into the 2002 season, the WRC calendar marked an exceptionally long pause of close to five weeks after Sweden, a break that couldn't have been better timed to allow teams to hone their respective machines in readiness for this weekend's showdown in Corsica. For make no mistake, despite its unforgettable vistas, the tour of the Mediterranean island is one of the toughest tests of the calendar. Its twisty, often abrasive mountain roads are particularly demanding on tyres which often play a decisive role, even though, on the wet, they are not pushed quite so much to their absolute limits. If only for this reason, the rallying fraternity will be keeping a very close watch indeed on the sky over the days ahead!
Weather has traditionally been a key ingredient of this event. Back in the heroic days when the annual tour of the island took place in autumn, tales of terrible storms took on legend status. Later, when the event moved to a regular early-May slot, fine weather on the coastal fringes tended to be the norm, but isolated, unpredictable showers in the mountains made tyre choice a particularly complex exercise.
The combination of this year's spring date and the focusing of the rally in the hills immediately around Ajaccio could well bring this type of scenario to a halt by ensuring more uniform conditions. But uniformly what? Mild, cold, dry, wet? Or even snow? Unlikely at low altitude, a wintry cloak is effectively possible on higher ground, although this year's route only very rarely takes competitors above the 800 metre contour. And forecasts are not really talking in terms of such unseasonal conditions.
Whichever way the weather turns, one thing is certain: there will be a winner Sunday in Ajaccio, the widely-tipped favourite for N°1 spot being Peugeot-Michelin. For not only did the French carmaker secure three 'WRC' one-twos on asphalt in 2001, it also counts one of today's top experts on this type of surface in its ranks in the person of Gilles Panizzi. The defending champions can expect stiff competition from all sides, however, while the presence of Philippe Bugalski in a privately-run Xsara-Michelin (
Corsica doesn't figure on Citroën's official programme) could well spell trouble for the championship regulars.
All this points to some excellent sport and action, a fitting reward for the organisers who have had less than five months since last year's visit to the island to put on the 46th running of the Tour of Corsica.
On the technical front
THE TOUR SEEN FROM UNDERNEATH
While tarmac may be the most familiar type of road surface to the everyday motorist, it forms something of a minority group when it comes to world rallying. Even so, the influence that the performance of so-called 'racing' tyres can have on the championship outcome has frequently proved decisive. Known also as the 'Rally of the 10,000 Corners', the Tour of Corsica is a first class opportunity to seek out the opinion of one of the main actors of tarmac rallying, the asphalt itself. We have therefore asked bend number 3293 of this year's visit to the Mediterranean island to talk us through the event from its privileged vantage point:
"The drivers say they can take me quicker today, as though the radius of my bend was bigger!"
Let's start with the introductions:
"For the holidaymaker touring the island by car, I'm just another bit of tarmac. To rally drivers, however, I am a well-known corner of the Tour of Corsica, a notoriously difficult right-hander coming down from one of the more famous cols. I should also point out that I am coated in a modern generation asphalt of a type that can be seen more and more on the island. Over the years, the former smooth and often damaged surfaces have progressively made way for a more abrasive type of asphalt designed to favour grip and drainage of rain water. Indeed, on the subject of weather, there's a fair chance I could be quite wet this year, even covered in snow, given the event's earlier date this time round."
Do you know rallying well?
"Sure I do! For the past forty years, the tyres of most of the sport's top stars have travelled over me. It's thanks to this fleeting bond with the rubber of their tread that I get to see the rally each year. The four contact patches where the tyre and myself come momentarily together may be no bigger than the palm of an outstretched hand, but it's via this small area that all the power of today's amazing machines is transmitted to the ground. This same bond has to simultaneously cope with the considerable lateral forces (up to 2G!) that are generated during the hardest cornering. Like the tyres, the stones and tar that form me really have to pull together to resist that sort of strain!"
In what way do you differ from your Monte Carlo Rally counterparts?
"The constraints that Corsica's asphalt and corners impose on tyres are amongst the toughest of the entire championship. More than anywhere else, we push the covers to their absolute limit. Put another way, we enable the tyres to demonstrate their full potential. My grip-enhancing abrasiveness and the increasingly tighter racing lines employed by today's drivers demand extremely sophisticated compounds and constructions to ensure consistently high performance over the full length of any one group of stages, a notion that recently played such a vital role on the stages of the Monte Carlo in January."
Have you noticed this technological evolution yourself?
"My special vantage point has effectively allowed me to note a direct relationship between efficient cornering and the sensation I get when the rubber and I are in perfect osmosis. You know, I am frequently used by teams for private test sessions where one of the main objectives of the engineers is to optimise the car-to-ground link of their machines. They are forever looking to fine-tune performance by harmonising the way their suspension systems and tyres work together, especially since the advent of Michelin's 'FP' generation of racings tyres. I have even heard it said that the drivers claim they are able to take me even quicker today since the Michelin 'FP' was first introduced in Corsica in 1999. They say it's almost as though the radius of my bend was bigger."