Tour de Corse Leg One Ford Motorsports Review

Weather holds the key to first leg success in Corsica (3 May1998) Rmno Thiry overcame the worst vagaries or the Corsican weather to hold a strong fifth position in his Ford Escort WQrld Rally Car...

Weather holds the key to first leg success in Corsica (3 May1998) Rmno Thiry overcame the worst vagaries or the Corsican weather to hold a strong fifth position in his Ford Escort WQrld Rally Car at the end of today's opening leg of the Tour of Corsica, round six of the FIA World Rally Championship. Heavy rain and fog on some special stages, damp patches on others and even dry roads on some sections made tyre selection extremely difficult for the asphalt mountain tests around the rally's base town of Ajaccio. But Thiry made the best use of his Michelin rubber to win the second or the day's six stages in his Valvoline-backed Escort to power his way up among the front-runners. Ford World Rally team-mate Juha Kankkunen lies ninth in the second Escort. Tortuously twisty mountain stages give the event its label 'Rally or 10,000 Corners' but Thiry's Escort performed superbly on what is regarded as a highly technical event which is extremely tough on brakes as the cars accelerate and slow incessantly to cope with the twists, turns and bumps. The variable weather posed tricky decisions for the Ford team and Michelin engineers. As conditions changed from one stage to the next, Thiry and Kankkunen faced the choice of compromising speed on one test when tyres were not ideal ror the conditions to be quick on the next when they were perfect. Added to this dilemma was the situation in today's middle group of two stages when Thiry and Kankkunen, like the majority of other front-runners, left the service park in dry conditions with slick tyres fitted to their Escorts, only for torrential rain to start as they tackled the stages. Thiry and co-driver Stephane Prevot lost around 10 seconds after a spin on the very first comer of the rally. "The tyres were still quite cold and we just lost grip," explained Thiry. "I couldn't select reverse gear quickly enough to turn the car around and we dropped a handful of seconds but we put that right by selling fastest time on the second stage. Today didn't start so well but it got better and better and I'm happy with our position. "It wasn't funny driving on streaming wet roads with slick tyres fitted to the Escort but that's all part of the challenge of this rally. The weather can change so quickly here and we have to be able to adapt to sudden changes while still maintaining a fast pace. We haven't done a lot of testing in the wet so it's hard to define the ideal set-up. "Our gravel crew, which runs through the stages at the last possible moment before the roads are closed to give us the latest information on conditions, has been invaluable. They told us to keep right or keep left in certain places to avoid as much of the water as possible and that's a huge help," added the 35-year-old Belgian. Even Kankkunen, the most successful driver in the history of the sport with four world titles to his credit, found the weather difficult to master. Today has been a little bit of a lottery because we've had to cope with wet roads dry roads, damp roads and fog everything but snow in fact," said the 39-year-old Finn. Co-driver Juha Repo added: On the last two stages this arternoon the car was aquaplaning badly. It wanted to go in totally different directions and there's not much consistency when it's like that. It's been a long time since we drove in weather that bad." Team director Malcolm Wilson looked back on a day which again proved the Escorts are a match for both the four-wheel drive World Championship cars and the lightweight two-wheel drive machines whose weight advantage makes them so competitive on asphalt. It would be fair to say that if Bruno hadn't lost time on the first stage, he would be in second tonight," he said. "He was consistently the fastest or the Michelin-shod World Championship cars. Our plan for tomorrow is for Bruno to keep up the pressure and for Juha to work his way up into the points. We're expecting a big push from them both. Both Escorts have been fitted with Ford's newly-developed start control system, which allows drivers to gain extra boost at the beginning of a stage by pressing the throttle flat to the floor before letting out the clutch rather than balancing the two in traditional fashion. Its success can be gauged from todayts data which showed that without using the optional system, the Escort reached a top speed of 37kph in the first second after a downhill start, Using the system on a level start, the Escort reached 43kph in the first second, an improvement of 6kph. Tomorrow's second leg is the longest of the event, drivers facing more than 13 hours behind the wheel as the rally makes a welcome return to the mountain stages north-east of Corte, missing from the 1997 route. They leave Ajacco at 07.00 for six more stages, including one tackled twice, covering 129.58km before returning to the town for the final overnight halt at 20.10. CAPTION: Leaderboard after Leg I 1 C McRae/N Grist GB Subaru Impreza 1hr 31min 46.3sec 2 F Delacour/D Grataloup F Peugeot 306 1hr 32min 07.0sec 3 P Liatti / F Pons I Subaru Imprezza 1hr 32min 09.9sec 4 C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 1hr 32min 19.1sec 5 B Thiry/S Prevot B Ford Escort 1hr 32min 21.5sec 6 D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 1hr 32min 30.4sec 7 G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Peugeot 306 1hr 32min 37.7sec 8 R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma 1hr 32min 44.9sec 9 J Kankkunen / J Repo FIN Ford Escort 1hr 33min 32.1sec 10 P Bugalski / J-P Chiaroni F Citroen Xsara 1hr 33min 53.5sec

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Juha Kankkunen , Stéphane Prévot , Juha Repo , Malcolm Wilson
Teams Citroën World Rally Team