Tour de Corse: Hyundai preview

The Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team head to Corsica next week for the famous Rallye de France-Tour de Corse, the first true tarmac round of the season. HCWRT crews Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer and Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets will be competing in an...

The Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team head to Corsica next week for the famous Rallye de France-Tour de Corse, the first true tarmac round of the season. HCWRT crews Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer and Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets will be competing in an Accent WRC" where it will be making its debut. They will also be joined by team newcomers, former Polish F2 champions Tomasz Kuchar and co-driver Maciej Szczepaniak in the third WRC".

The team completed six days testing the new evolution of the Hyundai Accent World Rally Car in the Tarragona region of Spain, where roads resemble all types of tarmac encountered in Corsica. Concentrating predominantly on a revised engine specification, improved suspension and power steering, both Schwarz and Loix were impressed with the car that is clearly well on it's way to making a statement.

Germany's Armin Schwarz said, "The car is feeling much much better now, really good. It feels more confident, reacts better and I am really enjoying driving it. For me the engine changes have made a big difference, although there are obviously many other factors contributing to a better feeling. I'm looking forward to Corsica and if the car runs in the same way as it did on the test, then we should really be able to competitive there."

Team-mate Freddy Loix is also looking forward to seeing exactly how competitive the WRC" is. "The first two events of the year were both a nice surprise in terms of performance and there's no reason why the situation should be any different in Corsica," said the 31-year-old Belgian. "We had a very good test in Spain and the car has improved a lot but we just don't know the level of performance until we can compete against other cars. Last year I gained confidence that I had not had before for Corsica so I am going there next week with a good feeling. I have also begun walking without crutches to strengthen my foot again. It feels a bit stiff and weak but I have been doing a lot of exercises and cycling and I am 95% hoping to be driving without the special foot protection by next week."

New team-mates Tomasz Kuchar and co-driver Maciej Szczepaniak will be joining Hyundai regulars Schwarz and Loix for the first of their four scheduled events with the Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team for the year. "Compared to when I first drove a Hyundai, this car feels very different," said 25-year-old Kuchar. "The steering is very sensitive so you have to be much more accurate and precise with you movements than I have been used to and the gear shift is excellent. But I have only spent a short amount of time in the car and we have a two-day test coming up so I will be able to get more of an idea then. I really am looking forward to Corsica but everything is new for me so I am aware that I have a lot of work to do -- I am now working with some of the best engineers, the best mechanics, the best team management and the best drivers so I feel I have to reach the highest level possible myself to fulfil everyone's expectations. But even though this is my first time in Corsica, I am really looking forward to being a part of this team. My aim will be to gain experience and to finish the rally with a view to increasing my speed for Catalunya." Following Rallye Catalunya Kuchar will also compete in Rallye Deutschland and Rallye Sanremo which will conclude his program with the team.

Key Issues

According to Sven Smeets, co-driver to Freddy Loix, "Corsica is one of the more difficult rallies and not really one of my favourites. One of the biggest differences this year will be the fact that it is very early in the season. At the beginning of March it is likely the weather will be even more changeable than we have been used to -- it was for that reason it used to be run no earlier than May in the past. The weather can change in the space of about two hours -- it can be raining one side of a mountain and dry the other, but with lower temperatures there is more possibility for worse weather. It is also early enough in the year for snow which will be interesting considering we will not have a snow tyre option for the event. Driving on snow without a snow tyre is also a safety issue that has to be considered.

It is a difficult rally although possibly not as difficult as it used to be when the roads went much further away from Ajaccio and there was more variation in the kind of tarmac. There is still a big variety in the different types of tarmac however -- the old asphalt can be very slippery in the wet, almost like driving on ice but the narrower, rougher asphalt that gets very dirty from the wild pigs who make a lot of mess is more abrasive, making it quite hard on the car. But the event this year is about 99% the same as last year so we don't have to learn many new stages. The new car should also work in our favour -- it has a lot of improvements, the test was good and it now feels like a tarmac car should feel."

The Rally

Leg one of the event starts at 08:00 on Friday 8 March covering 129 kilometres of special stages east of the Ajaccio rally base, including the longest stage of the event, the 36.73km Petreto-Ampaza. Crews tackle the longest day of the event on leg two comprising 154 competitive kilometres over seven special stages beginning with a repeat of the longest of the event, followed by three which are repeated north and northeast of the Corsican capital. 112 kilometres of stages southeast of Ajaccio on leg three concludes the event, bringing crews to the podium finish at 14:36.

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Series WRC
Drivers Freddy Loix , Tomasz Kuchar , Armin Schwarz , Sven Smeets