Tyres the key as three Imprezas move into the points
On the second day of competition on Rallye de France Tour de Corse, tyre preservation was the critical element as the Mediterranean sun burned the broken and abrasive tarmac. The punishing combination was an unforgiving test for Pirelli's P-Zero championship control tyres used by the WRC field, even in their hard compound guise, and drivers had to adopt a calculated approach to stop them overheating.
As tyre temperatures soared and the ambient nudged 28 degrees Celsius, so the grip available from the rubber diminished and, coupled with a layer of dirt and gravel on the roads, the stages became increasingly slippery. This challenge was compounded for the three SWRT entries by the continuation of yesterday's battles, demanding a fine balance between racing hard and easing off slightly to save their tyres.
"The conditions today have been really tough, and there have been a lot of punctures which have reshuffled the order" said David Richards. "Unfortunately, although he remains in a strong sixth position, Chris' puncture dropped him from the battle with Petter and Latvala. Petter is still doing a solid job in fifth, and it is great to see Brice moving into the top eight on his home rally."
The three-way scrap between Petter Solberg, Chris Atkinson and Jari-Matti Latvala became a head-to-head when Atkinson and Stephane Prevot suffered a front left puncture early on in stage nine. Opting not to stop and change the wheel, the duo's decision to nurse their car home was vindicated when they saved 30seconds, losing 1minute 25s rather than the two minutes it would have taken to replace the wheel.
After two days of battling, Solberg and Mills finished an intensely punishing second day of competition in fifth position overall, 22.4seconds shy of Ford's Latvala with just over 116 kilometres left to run tomorrow. Lying in sixth position is the duo of Atkinson and Prevot, 1minute 50seconds adrift after their puncture.
"Fifth is exactly where we expected to be here so it's quite ok" said Petter Solberg. "It's been a bit up and down today for us as the stages are very different today to yesterday, and a mix of smooth and abrasive. On the abrasive we were faster than Jari, but on the smooth downhill sections we just lose time. We're making some changes and some areas are a little bit better and we're understanding them more, but some not so good, but that's just the way it is. If you want to go forward, sometimes you will go backwards a bit. The roads are a little wider tomorrow but still lots of surface changes so we'll see what we can do."
"There wasn't anything particularly special for us today" said Chris Atkinson. "We were pushing hard this morning and were pretty close to Jari-Matti and Petter, but then we got a puncture on the middle stage of the morning. Now there's 1minute 50s ahead of us and 1minute 40s behind. You've got to keep pushing on roads like these though, but the idea is to get the points for sixth now and see if anyone else who's pushing has a problem."
Local challengers Brice Tirabassi and Fabrice Gordon started the day in a battle of their own with Andreas Mikkelsen (Ford), Urmo Aava, Conrad Rautenbach (both in Citroens) and PG Andersson (Suzuki). Mikkelsen's challenge came to an end with a puncture early on in the day's first stage, followed by Rautenbach in the following test. Andersson stopped on the day's penultimate run, promoting the French duo to a points-scoring position on their home event.
"Ok we are now eighth, but this event is not easy for us so far" said Brice Tirabassi. "It's been a long day for me, and we have been making some changes to the car, but the feeling is hard for me to find. We are still running further down so there is lots of gravel on the roads and they are very slippery, but it is not easy. We will now try to do some more to get a better feeling tomorrow."
The final day of competition in Corsica is the shortest of the rally at 116.26km, but includes the longest stage of the weekend. The 31.81km Agosta -- Pont de Calzola is the reverse of last year's Rallye Tour de Corse finale. The second of the day's two stages, each of which is run twice, is also a sizeable 26.32 kilometres and was run in reverse last year. The speed tests take crews south of Ajaccio across winding mountain passes towards the coastal town Propriano.