WRC

Tour de Corse: Round five preview

Two weeks after Rally Catalunya, the FIA World Rally Championship makes a short hop east across the Mediterranean from Spain to the French island of Corsica. The legendary Tour de Corse, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2006, takes place from...

Two weeks after Rally Catalunya, the FIA World Rally Championship makes a short hop east across the Mediterranean from Spain to the French island of Corsica. The legendary Tour de Corse, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2006, takes place from 7-9 April on the roads around the island's capital Ajaccio. Just like Rally Catalunya, the Tour de Corse is an asphalt event, although the characters of both differ hugely.

The Spanish asphalt is relatively smooth and new, whereas the Corsican Tarmac can be coarse and abrasive. Drivers go deep into the corners in Spain, however cutting corners in Corsica is rare as the narrow roads hug the sides of the mountains. With sheer rock face on one side and steep drops on the other, getting exactly the right line in Corsica is crucial.

Dubbed the 'rally of ten thousand corners,' the event is characterised by hard acceleration away from one corner before braking heavily for the next within a few hundred metres. The g-forces generated in the corners are the highest in the championship -- at times in excess of 1.5g laterally, more than double the amount generated by the standard road-going Impreza.

The Corsican weather can be as dramatic as the landscape. Within an hour bright sunshine can give way to heavy rain as warm sea air meets the cool mountain breeze. This year the rally takes place in early Spring with the mountains still snow-capped. Should temperatures rise just a few degrees, the snow will melt and saturate the roads with water.

The itinerary is virtually identical to 2005, with each leg comprising a morning loop of two stages which is repeated in the afternoon following service in the port area of Ajaccio. After a ceremonial start in the centre of Ajaccio on Thursday evening, Friday's opening leg is identical to last year on roads south-east of the town and is the longest of the event. Saturday's action takes competitors north of Ajaccio and includes a revised route for the opening stage of each loop. The last day is based south of the town and includes a stage last used in 2004. Drivers face 12 stages covering 355.16km in a route of 1044.24km. The event remains one of the most compact of the season with more than 34 per cent of the route being competitive.

Kronos Total Citroen

In Catalunya two weeks ago, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC have claimed for their second win this season, equalling Marcus Gronholm's score. Between the reigning World champions and their challenger in the current championship's standings, it is time for another duel on the 'Island of beauty' as the French call Corsica. The Kronos Total Citroen WRT enter in the 50th edition of the Tour de Corse, two 2006 Xsara WRCs for Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, the 2005 winners, and for Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio. As for the four previous rounds, Dani Sordo/Marc Marti -- who claimed for second position in Catalunya and currently lie in third position in the Drivers rankings - participate in the French round behind the wheel of the Kronos Racing 2005 Xsara.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: Sebastien Loeb perfectly knows that as he will take the start of the rally for the seventh time. In 2003, he could have won the event as he drove with dry road tyres in wet conditions and landed on the side of the road without being able to restart for around ten minutes. "We try to anticipate at the maximum but you also need a bit of luck. Actually the weather changes so quickly that it can change a logical and wise choice into a mistake--"

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "In Corsica, the weather conditions play an important role. In these long stages, there are some sections with rain, then some others with fog, and some more with sun and dry roads. The tyre choice is extremely tricky. I like the rally route because you find slow and fast places but also because the asphalt offers a good grip. As a consequence, you must start in the right pace straight away or you loose a lot of time quickly. I hope to drive at good speed and give back to the team the trust they've placed in me."

OMV-Peugeot Norway

Just like in Spain the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team will enter the "Rallye de France -- Tour de Corse" with only one car. Thus Manfred Stohl is able to score in the driver ranking -- the quest for points in the manufacturer ranking will only again begin in Argentina. The 33-year-old Austrian's professed goal for the coming weekend is a place among the top eight. Even though the special stages resemble those in Spain, the OMV duo sees better chances on the Mediterranean island.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: Manfred Stohl has very fond memories of the Corsica rally. The OMV driver won twice in the series class (1998 and 2000). But the course has changed since then. Stohl: "There are still a lot of turns but the roads have gotten broader and the rally faster. But it still won't be a walk in the park for there will be constant steering wheel action each and every second. The wheel won't stand still from first to last kilometre." This won't pose a problem for the OMV duo, especially since the pain from the testing accident in Spain is subsiding. Stohl: "I still feel every single rib, of course, but it's getting better each day and also you don't cut so much in Corsica. This means that there will be less vibrations in the car." In Corsica the recce is of paramount importance for there one decides where to attack and where to take it easier. Even more so since the OMV duo Stohl/Minor has last competed in Corsica in 2003. Stohl: "It is just like music. With all these turns one must find the right rhythm. I'm sure that this rally will be a true Rock 'n' Roll on tarmac."

BP-Ford

Just 11 days after closing in on the lead of the FIA World Rally Championship in Spain, the BP-Ford World Rally Team will face up to another asphalt showdown on the opposite side of the Mediterranean. The Rallye de France (6 - 9 April), based on the craggy island of Corsica, is regarded as the classic sealed surface event in the 16-round series and will provide another opportunity for the Focus RS World Rally Car to display its blistering asphalt pace. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen won 10 of the 16 speed tests on round four in Spain. The Corsican roads are very different in their characteristics but having excelled on both asphalt outings this season, BP-Ford feels confident going into this 50th anniversary event of improving on second in the manufacturers' standings. Thirty-eight-year-old Gronholm, who lies second in the drivers' championship, will start Corsica for the seventh time. Second in 2002 is his best result and his desire to improve on that in what could turn out to be a head-to-head battle with 2005 winner and French hero Sebastien Loeb is clear.

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: We proved in Spain that we have the right package to match Loeb on asphalt," he said. "I'm really excited about being able to fight with him in Corsica, even though it is his home event and he knows the roads well. I feel happier on the Corsican stages than on the roads in Spain. They are more like rally stages than a race circuit. "As ever in Corsica we must keep a careful eye on the weather. It is an island so things can change quickly and it is easy to be caught out on the wrong tyres because the weather in the mountains is different to that in the service park. One mistake in tyre selection can ruin an otherwise excellent rally. But we have experienced people in the team whose job it is too monitor the weather and help with tyre choice so we have the best advice," added Gronholm.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen has a 100 percent finishing record from two starts in Corsica and believes he can fight for a podium in the Focus RS. "I expect to be as fast as we were in Spain and fight for a top three. But I also expect those drivers who were fast in Spain will be fast here. Corsica's stages are twisty all the time. I will need to find a different rhythm, one that is precise and tidy. It's not usually possible to cut corners because there are often brick walls and stones on the edge of the road," he said. "The roads can be abrasive but if the weather conditions are consistent, I'm sure the BFGoodrich tyres will be perfect. Sometimes a driver has to look after his tyres to ensure they don't 'go off' but with the new Focus I've never had to do this. It's a combination of the car and the tyres. They both complement each other and I know I will be able to drive flat out without having to protect them," he added.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford

The Mediterranean island of Corsica provides the venue for the latest lesson for Britain's only full-time FIA World Rally Championship driver, Matthew Wilson and his Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team. The squad near a third of the way through the WRC season with their young British star eager to maintain momentum in his championship-learning rookie year. Whilst most students would encounter Corsica in a history course concerning former French ruler, Napoleon Bonaparte, it's something different altogether different that Wilson has to learn; corners, and lots of them. It's not for nothing that the rally has been christened the 'rally of ten thousand corners'. Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr will not only have to catalogue each and every turn in their pace notes, but have formed an opinion on just how fast they think they should be taken, despite only being able to drive the route at vastly reduced speeds from their stage pace. Joining Wilson for the second event in a row is the Finnish pairing of driver Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila. Whilst Wilson left Catalunya for training and preparation for the forthcoming event, Latvala was straight back into his national service.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: The rallies are coming thick and fast at the moment and Corsica will present another challenge. We've been working on our pace notes and it will be my second tarmac rally in a row with the Focus in full tarmac spec. We're still learning so much with every day of every rally. It's good having Jari-Matti as part of the team as he's only a couple of years older than me and he started the same way I did with the British Rally Championship.

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "I should have had a good result in Spain if I hadn't hit the bridge on Friday so hopefully France should be better. The experience means I feel more confident in the car, and Corsica should be easier as I have done it two times before. I can't guarantee super fast but I hope we can be just a little bit faster than Spain."

555 Subaru

The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two Subaru Impreza WRC2006 cars in the Tour de Corse. Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Stephane Sarrazin (co-driven by Stephane Prevot) will drive both drive 2006 cars and will be eligible to score points towards the manufacturers' championship. Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall) will drive a Subaru Impreza WRC2005 entered by Subaru Australia. Corsica is historically a good event for the Subaru World Rally Team and they go to the island optimistic of a good result. The team has won three times in the past 10 years, including 2003 when Petter Solberg scored a famous victory after crashing heavily on shakedown. Stephane Sarrazin also has a strong record in the event finishing sixth on his Corsican debut in 2004 in a privately-entered Subaru Impreza before equalling his best-ever WRC finish when he finished fourth overall with the Subaru World Rally Team in 2005.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: The Tour de Corse is a very good event. I think compared to Rally Spain the stages and the asphalt will suit us better. In the past the Corsican roads were more abrasive as the surface was much older, however nowadays there's not so much of the old Tarmac left. On the whole our car and tyres match the event very well. My objective is to try for a podium again. That's my aim, we'll just have to see how we get on."

Stephane Sarrazin/Stephane Prevot: "I feel very positive about this rally. We've done Corsica twice before and both times we've had a good result and fought with the quickest cars. In 2004 we came sixth and last year fourth, which was a great result in front of my home crowd. For sure Spain was a difficult rally for us but we'll try and improve for Corsica and fight for positions. I want to finish in the top five."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "The team has always had better results in Corsica than in Spain so we're optimistic of a good overall result. With the improvements we found in Spain we'll also have a chance of finishing higher up the order. My speed on asphalt is increasing all the time and we're looking to be consistent. Our goal, as always, is to get some points and to be competitive with the rest of the field."

Red Bull-Skoda Team

The Red Bull Skoda Team is delighted to announce the signing of Finland's Harri Rovanpera for the remaining seven WRC events. He will take over from Gilles Panizzi with immediate effect, already going into action in Corsica, where he will be celebrating his 40th birthday in style on Saturday, the second leg of the rally. In his last rally the previous year, Rovanpera finished second in Australia, the Finn's greatest success came with a win in Sweden 2001. The early departure of Gilles and Herve Panizzi is down to private family matters.

Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi: "This surely has to be my best birthday present ever. I hope I will be fast not only on the gravel rallies, but also perform well for my new team on tarmac," an always cheerful "Dirty Harri", as he is affectionately known by his fans, explains.

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: Andreas Aigner, who has driven his first truly flawless rally in Spain, will arrive in Corsica well-prepared on that score: "I've gained a lot of tarmac experience in Spain, now I have to try and continue to put this knowledge into practice in Corsica. I'm already looking forward to working together with my new teammate, I hope we'll cooperate well."

-www.rallye-newsletter.com/

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Stéphane Sarrazin , Harri Rovanpera , Gilles Panizzi , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Hervé Panizzi , Timo Rautiainen , Manfred Stohl , Daniel Elena , Jari-Matti Latvala , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Stéphane Prévot , Jarmo Lehtinen , Miikka Anttila , Ilka Minor , Xavier Pons , Matthew Wilson , Michael Orr , Chris Atkinson , Andreas Aigner , Timo Gottschalk
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport