Craggy Corsican classics ready to challenge Ford line-up Only four days after the speed tests in Spain fell silent, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's drivers will fire up their Focus RS World Rally Cars again for the second instalment of the...
Craggy Corsican classics ready to challenge Ford line-up
Only four days after the speed tests in Spain fell silent, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's drivers will fire up their Focus RS World Rally Cars again for the second instalment of the FIA World Rally Championship's asphalt double-header in the Mediterranean. Although it is only a short journey across the water to the craggy island of Corsica, Rallye de France (9 - 12 October) offers a challenge far removed from the one that competitors have just faced on Rally de Espana.
The 13th round of the series, and the final sealed surface fixture of the 2008 campaign, is regarded as the championship's 'classic' asphalt rally. In contrast to the smooth, sweeping roads of Spain, the popular holiday island offers narrow and tortuously twisty ribbons of asphalt on mountain roads that are susceptible to sudden and unpredictable changes in weather that can turn the rally against a driver just like flicking a switch.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi starts the year's second championship encounter to be fought out on French territory, following January's season-opening Rallye Monte Carlo in the Alps, in second place in the manufacturers' standings. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie second in the drivers' points table with just three rounds remaining in the 15-event series. As in Spain, the Finns will be partnered by Francois Duval and Patrick Pivato in another Focus RS WRC.
Affectionately known as the Rally of 10,000 Corners, the event has evolved considerably in recent years. Roads that twist and turn with the contours of a mountain, with a rock face on one side and a huge drop into the sea on the other, are less frequent. Nevertheless, it remains hugely demanding and the abrasive asphalt requires hard-wearing tyres. The mountainous terrain and island location means rain is always likely, a factor that 28-year-old Hirvonen says demands accurate weather forecasting.
"The weather is so unpredictable here," he said. "One moment it's dry and sunny, the next it can be pouring with rain. The tyre rules mean we only have hard or soft compound rubber from which to choose - basically a dry tyre and a wet weather option - which makes the choice easier. However, it has become more important to know when it will start raining, rather than how hard it will rain as we only have the one wet weather option anyway.
"On the second day we have to choose tyres more than three hours before the final test in the loop so if rain is forecast, the team needs to predict when it will arrive so we can choose the correct rubber. Pirelli's tyres work well on the Focus RS WRC in light rain, but I've not experienced heavy rain yet so I wouldn't feel quite so comfortable in those conditions.
"I like competing on consecutive weekends because it's easy to slot into the driving style required for asphalt having just finished a rally on the same surface. This rally is much slower than Spain. It's more twisty, with corner after corner. Although some roads have been resurfaced in recent years to make them smoother, there are still many bumpy sections with broken asphalt which is abrasive for tyres. It's tough, but I enjoy Corsica because it's the classic asphalt rally in the championship and more traditional than the other sealed surface events," added Hirvonen, who has a 100 per cent finishing record from his four starts on the island.
Rallye de France is Duval's favourite asphalt event in the championship, the 27-year-old Belgian preferring the tight and twisty stages to the more flowing tests encountered in Spain. He has seven starts to his name and finished third in a Focus RS WRC in 2003.
"Corsica's roads are twisty, abrasive and aggressive on tyres," said Duval. "It's important for a driver to have the same attacking attitude as in Spain, but to balance that with some caution. To attack too hard in Corsica can lead to mistakes, because the roads are so narrow that if a driver makes an error there isn't much room to correct it before hitting something. I had a really good test there before we went to the rally in Spain. I covered about 300km in a day-and-a-half.
"I had a good rally in Spain, but I think Corsica can be better and I would like to challenge for victory. I feel confident because Rally de Espana was good training for Corsica. This is a difficult rally and hard for a driver, but that's the type of challenge I enjoy," he added.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive the team's third car on Al Qassimi's Corsican debut. "I've never seen the stages in Corsica and never been to the island. Having finished Spain, I can go there with another asphalt event under my belt, with more confidence and ready to really give it my all. This is the final asphalt event of the season so it's important I continue to make progress. Next year there are many changes to the WRC calendar and there will be many new events for me where experience and mileage will be the keys to success," added the 36-year-old.
* As part of the sport's new regulations, BP Ford Abu Dhabi will have just one tyre pattern from Pirelli. The PZero asphalt tyre will be available in both hard and soft compound but there will be no other option for specific dry or wet weather rubber. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber in the event of heavy rain and each car can carry two spares.
* Five other Focus RS cars will start. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated by the Stobart VK M-Sport squad while the team has also entered Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud and Barry Clark / Paul Nagle. A privately-entered car will be driven by Andreas Mikkelsen / Ola Floene.
* M-Sport raised 3500 GBP for the new Colin McRae Vision charity. Ex-Ford driver McRae would have celebrated his 40th birthday in August. To mark the occasion M-Sport raised money during the month for the charity which will support designated children's charitable causes and also foster and educate young motorsport talent in the UK. BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson handed over the cheque to charity organisers at the Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally in Scotland last weekend.