Sinuous Corsican roads pose a different challenge for SWRT The French round of the World Rally Championship, on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, is the second asphalt rally in as many weekends and also the last tarmac outing of the 2008 WRC...
Sinuous Corsican roads pose a different challenge for SWRT
The French round of the World Rally Championship, on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, is the second asphalt rally in as many weekends and also the last tarmac outing of the 2008 WRC season. Immediately following Rally Catalunya, it forms the second half of the asphalt double-header as the season nears its finale.
"It is perhaps misleading to look at Spain and Corsica as two separate events, because we move from one immediately to the next and it is so important that we continue our learning and progress across both" said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. "We learned some good lessons in Spain, and it is vital that we carry these into this coming weekend's competition to take a step forward with our performance on tarmac."
Based in Ajaccio on the west of the island, the service park sits within the town's shipping port. Ajaccio and Salou, where the WRC took to the tarmac just last week, face each other from opposing banks of the Mediterranean Ocean.
Coming just days after Rally Catalunya, Corsica's challenge is also waged on asphalt roads, but winding through the mountainous and beautifully unspoiled countryside, they are of a very different nature.
"Corsica is a lot more bumpy than Spain so subjects the cars and drivers to different types of loads, but it's still a fast one and sees the cars pull similar lateral forces of about 1.5g" said Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director. "The surface is more abrasive so tyre wear could be more of a factor.
"They're different natured events, but the drivers should know the cars well coming from Spain, have good knowledge of the tyres and know the limits, so be in a good rhythm from the off. As with Spain, that's what you need to be fast here. The weather can be hard to predict and localised showers often have an impact on the leaderboard. It's common for cars to leave a dry service park and arrive at a rain-soaked stage.
"Operationally this is quite a tricky event as within 24 hours of finishing in Spain, we are in Corsica ready to rebuild and re-prepare the cars for the start of the rally. All the teams are well rehearsed in it though, so it only really becomes a problem if something unexpected happens that affects the timings in place."
The timings between the two are clearly crucial for drivers too, as Petter Solberg explains: "Spain and Corsica are completely different events as the nature of the roads is different and the surface is much more abrasive. The biggest thing though is that they are so close together.
"It doesn't necessarily make it tougher on drivers and it's not because it's physically hard, but because normally if you are fast on one rally, you are fast on the next. You build the confidence. And if you are slow on one rally, you are slow on the next. There's no time for teams to really work on the cars between the two either."
In contrast to Corsica's quiet demeanour, the rally route is anything but laid back. The Rally of a Thousand Corners is a fitting moniker for this test that certainly keeps the drivers busy. The roads are flowing, meaning that they are also very fast, but are characterised by the constant dance of hard acceleration and heavy braking, cars teetering on the edge of adhesion.
"The roads are much more bumpy and narrow, so it does demand different things from you in the car" said Chris Atkinson. "The cars all react a lot more to the bumps than they did in Spain, so there is a lot more work to do in predicting and feeling where and when they are going to bounce and move.
"I think you can definitely carry confidence from Spain into Corsica. While it's generally the case, you can't just assume that a good feeling in Spain will lead to the same in France though. It's the second part of a very important series of rallies that could set you up well for the last part of the season so you can't take anything for granted."
Rallye de France Tour de Corse is an important event for Brice Tirabassi and Fabrice Gordon aboard the third Impreza WRC2008. Not only is it his home event, but Tirabassi made his WRC debut on the island in 1999 and, before Spain last weekend, it was the scene of his most recent WRC outing last year. What's more, Tirabassi's long-time co-driver Fabrice Gordon is Corsican-born and lives on the island.
"Corsica is my home event and I am very excited to be doing the rally in a works Impreza" enthused Brice Tirabassi. "It's a fantastic opportunity for me, and after the experience of Spain I want to push myself and the car a little bit harder. I've had more experience of WRC cars in Corsica than in Spain, so I hope this will help my performance. It's also nice because Fabrice lives in Corsica, so I think we'll have lots of support."
After a ceremonial start at the Place Austerlitz in the centre of Ajaccio on Thursday evening, competitors embark upon sixteen stages totalling 359.02 kilometres.
The Subaru World Rally Team has entered three Impreza WRC2008s for Rallye de France Tour de Corse. As usual, Petter Solberg and Phil Mills will drive number five, and team-mates Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot number six. The third Impreza WRC2008 number 14 will be piloted by Frenchmen Brice Tirabassi and his co-driver Fabrice Gordon.
Between the rallies
Running back-to-back with Rally Catalunya, there were no days off for the drivers and the team. Departing Spain on Monday, the team arrived in Corsica in time to go straight into the first day of stage reconnaissance on Tuesday. It is the shortest break between rallies of the year.