Other News - Ford Signs Marcus Gronholm for 2006 Ford of Europe has signed twice former world champions Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen to drive the all-new Focus RS World Rally Car in the FIA World Rally Championship. Ford has reached a ...
Other News - Ford Signs Marcus Gronholm for 2006
Ford of Europe has signed twice former world champions Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen to drive the all-new Focus RS World Rally Car in the FIA World Rally Championship. Ford has reached a two-year agreement with the Finns. They will make their Ford debut in January's Monte Carlo Rally, the opening round of the 2006 series.
The FIA World Rally Championship returns to asphalt for round 14 of the 16-event calendar at the famed Rallye de France - Tour de Corse from 21 - 23 October. The legendary event will be the first sealed-surface rally since Rallye Deutschland in August and the first of two back-to-back events.
For the first time this year the same cars will be used on two consecutive events as Rally Catalunya starts just one week after the finish of the Tour de Corse. Using engines for two events has become customary under current regulations, but on this occasion the same chassis must be used for both Corsica and Spain in an experiment for the 2007 season, when further cost-saving event pairing systems may come into play.
The weather in Corsica will also be a factor in success as bright sunshine can give way to heavy rain with only a moment's notice making stages incredibly slippery. The scenic winding roads have earned the event the nickname of 'the rally of a thousand corners' and competition will be fierce as WRC regulars go head to head with French asphalt specialists. In fact only five non-French drivers have won the event in the last 15 years.
The itinerary is similar to 2004, with each leg comprising a morning loop of two stages which is repeated in the afternoon after service in the port area of Ajaccio. After a ceremonial start in the centre of Ajaccio on Thursday evening, Friday's opening leg is identical to last year on roads south-east of the town. The second leg on Saturday is the longest. It covers tests north of the town and a stretch of road which has never been rallied before, as well as the climb of the 1193m Col de Scalella, the highest point of the rally. The last day is based south of Ajaccio and includes a brand new stage with marvellous views overlooking the Gulf of Ajaccio. Drivers face 12 stages covering 341.68km in a total route of 1023.82km. The event remains one of the most compact in the championship with more than 33 per cent of the route being competitive.
In its bid to score further big points, the current Manufacturers' championship leaders Citroen have entered two Xsara WRCs for the Tour of Corsica; one for Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, who clinched the 2005 Drivers title* in Japan, and the other for Francois Duval/Sven Smeets. This year, Sebastien and Daniel are ahead of schedule: their 2nd place in Japan put the finishing touch to their title-winning run during which they have set a number of new records, including a score of eight wins to date. "But winning the Drivers' title is only half the job," announced Guy Frequelin in Obihiro. "We will now try to finish it off by winning the Manufacturers' crown again." Winning a third consecutive Manufacturers' title is now the team's primary objective and, to boost its chances, it is clearly hoping for a top result in Corsica. Its hopes are founded on the recent domination of the Xsara WRC and its Michelin tyres on asphalt -- admittedly of a very different type -- in Germany, but Sebastien's motivation to win his home round for the first time and Francois Duval's previous strong runs on the island have also helped fire the team's optimism.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "...the Corsican stages are not as slow as many people imagine. OK, we are sometimes in 3rd gear, but more often than not we are in 4th or 5th gear. There are very few straights, but there are bumpy sections which tend to unsettle the car, so there's plenty going on. There's no time to get bored. What I like less is the fickleness of the weather. Driving in the wet on dry weather tyres is frankly a very delicate exercise, dangerous even. Not much fun at all. But that's rallying--"
Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "The Corsican stages are obviously not the same as those we found in Germany. But it's still asphalt, so I think the domination of the Xsara and our tyres in the Deutschland Rally is still a valid pointer. And if that does prove to be the case again, I really hope I can finish on the podium--"
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter a three-car team on the Tour de Corse. The three Impreza WRC2005's will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills), Stephane Sarrazin (co-driven by Denis Giraudet) and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). On this event Petter and Stephane will be eligible to score points in the 2005 FIA Championship for Manufacturers. After a dramatic retirement from the lead of Rally Japan two weeks ago, Petter Solberg is hoping for better fortunes at the Tour de Corse. The Norwegian scored his first asphalt victory at the event in 2003 in remarkable circumstances after a heavy crash in the pre-event shakedown. Stephane Sarrazin contests the rally for the second time in a WRC car, while Chris Atkinson makes his second-ever WRC appearance on tarmac.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "We have completed three days of testing on asphalt with the current car and we found a balance we were very happy with. We also tried a new Pirelli tyre compound and I got a good feeling. The performance was good and I think there is more to come from the package in rally conditions. We have been reasonably competitive on asphalt in previous rallies and I will try, like in every event, to be in front. I think we can realistically hope for a podium - we have to hope and try for this."
Stephan Sarrazin/Denis Giraudet: "I recently completed two days of testing in Spain, where we tested tyres, suspension and the chassis set-up. It was very interesting and we found some good improvements. I know the rally from last year so I am very happy to go back. I am confident we can achieve a good result as we showed in Germany that we had improved and are close to Citroen and Peugeot. I need to drive well and push 100%. At my home event I will have many fans and supporters, which will make this rally very exciting to drive."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "I've never competed in the Tour de Corse, although I did do the recce a couple of years ago. Even though I won't be using the notes I made, it does give you an idea of what to expect. The roads are quite twisty and bumpy and the set-up of the car will be important. This will only be my second tarmac event so it will be a big learning curve, but I'll draw on my experience from Germany. My confidence is high after Japan."
Centenary celebrations will surround the BP-Ford World Rally Team when the Rallye de France Tour de Corse (20 - 23 October) marks the 100th start for the Ford Focus in the FIA World Rally Championship. The car made its debut on the opening round of the 1999 series in Monte Carlo and the second French-based asphalt event in this year's 16-round championship will mark the car's anniversary. The Focus has won 16 world rallies in the hands of three drivers. Colin McRae claimed nine victories, Markko Martin won five events and Carlos Sainz was twice victorious. Including the wins, the Focus has claimed 59 podium finishes in its first 99 events
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "The first time I competed in Corsica was in 2000 and I hated the rally," he said. "Since then I've started to like it more and now the only thing I hate about it is the weather. It's virtually impossible to predict what the weather is going to do in the mountains when we're sitting in the service park next to the sea trying to decide what tyres to choose. And if a driver is caught on dry weather tyres in the rain, it's easy to lose a minute or two on just one stage. "I don't think the roads are any less twisty than they were, but they are certainly wider. The real difficulty with the stages is the surface. It changes all the time and there are so many different types of asphalt that there is no real consistency. It's unpredictable. We will not have a pre-event test but if the set-up is good on shakedown, and we have good information available after last year's win for the car, I don't think it will be a problem," he said.
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "I spoke with Jan (Tomanek) earlier this week and while some stages are similar to 2002, we decided that we should treat the rally as a new one in terms of preparation," said Kresta. "The roads are very twisty, quite like the Monte Carlo Rally in parts. After the Rallye Deutschland I feel comfortable and confident with the Focus on asphalt. It's a good car on all surfaces but last year's win in Corsica proves how suited it is to asphalt. I'll use the base set-up from last year and make any changes during the shakedown. "Everyone talks about the weather and tyres, but this is the most difficult part of the event. It's not just the contrast between the service park next to the sea and the mountains where the stages are run. There is also the problem of having to choose tyres nearly three hours before a stage starts. The weather can change several times in that period," added Kresta.
After its two wins so far this year, in Finland and Japan, the Peugeot 307 WRC will be looking for a good result in 14 and 15 of the 2005 World Rally Championship which take competitors to Corsica and Catalonia. Peugeot has carved out a highly successful record in Corsica over the years. The French event was chosen for the debut of the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 in the 1980s, kicking off a glorious chapter of the firm's history. In 1999, the French carmaker once again chose the Mediterranean island event to launch the career of the Peugeot 206 WRC which went on to win there twice, in 2000 and 2002. This year, the weather could well play a decisive role, notably on the tyre front, just as it promises to be an issue during the following weekend's Catalonia Rally which begins just five days after the finish of the Tour of Corsica in Ajaccio on Sunday October 23rd.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: Apologies.
Nicolas Bernardi/Jean Marc Fortin: "It's clear that I mustn't run before I can walk and that I need to take things one step at a time. However, I have no intention of simply making up the numbers. I haven't competed in Corsica since 2001, but I've already done the event three times. I therefore have a good working knowledge of the island's very technically demanding stages. It's always very stimulating too to compete on your home round, especially when you're defending the colours of the FFSA Equipe de France and Peugeot. I am very, very motivated. The trick will be to manage that motivation and to stay both attentive and concentrated. But I don't want to set myself a precise objective until I've driven the 307 WRC competitively and seen how I compare with the other drivers."
The Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team heads to Corsica (October 20-23) for the first of two back-to-back asphalt rallies in the Mediterranean region, the Catalunya-Costa Daurada Rally taking place immediately afterwards (October 27-30). Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha lead the team as usual while the second Fabia WRC 05 will be driven by the French crew of Alex Bengue/Caroline Escudero and a third Fabia will be in the hands of Czech Champions Jan Kopecký/Filip Schovanek.
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: Corsica is one of the nicest asphalt rallies. The surface is smoother than it used to be but the new format of long stages and reduced service makes it a big challenge. The autumn weather can be critical here also as we have seen many times in the past.
Alex Bengue/Caroline Escudero: I know this event very well of course. I like it very much because it has a unique challenge for me. The roads are fantastic and there is a lot of good grip which should suit our car. I'm more confident about this rally than any of the others I have driven so far so I hope I can do well.
Jan Kopecký/Filip Schovanek: Corsica is the most difficult asphalt rally in the championship. I did the recce last year but this will be my first time there as a competitor. I will have to be very careful and treat it as a learning exercise but it will be very good practice for me country.
After its highly-competitive outing on Japanese soil two weeks ago, the Mitsubishi Motors WRC team returns to Europe for the first of two Mediterranean-based back-to-back asphalt events. The Rallye de France -- Tour de Corse (October 20-23) is one of the most fearsome rounds of the series and the team will once again be fielding cars for registered crews Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen and Gilles/Herve Panizzi, as well as a third Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 for "Gigi" Galli/Guido d'Amore.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "Both Corsica and Catalunya are events I drove some years ago so I have an idea of the roads and the conditions and I'm more confident with these two Tarmac rallies", said Harri. "The most important thing is that our Corsica test went well, I have a good set-up and confidence in the feeling. I would really prefer dry conditions for the rally, simply because when it is like this it's easier to get the feeling with the grip. If it's dry, I can see more but it's not necessary the best for our package. But okay, Corsica is twisty, fast and difficult; whatever the weather it won't be easy but I'm looking forward to it".
Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi: "I love this rally, it is the best Tarmac event in the world", said Gilles. "I will try my hardest and I hope that it will be like Monte-Carlo. I would like to win, obviously, but I think as always the weather is a big factor; every year it is the same and so difficult to predict what will happen up in the mountains. Sitting in the service park, making tire decisions so far ahead - maybe it can be raining, maybe storms inside the island, but I enjoy playing with those sort of conditions and hopefully the weather will be difficult, as that will help us. To go on the podium I think is possible. If this happens, I will be very very happy".