Tour de Corse: Round 14 preview

Team's travel to Corsica next week for the 14th of the 16-event series, the French Tour de Corse. Starting on Friday 15 October, the rally will be the first asphalt event since August's Rallye Deutschland and the first of two consecutive ...

Team's travel to Corsica next week for the 14th of the 16-event series, the French Tour de Corse. Starting on Friday 15 October, the rally will be the first asphalt event since August's Rallye Deutschland and the first of two consecutive Mediterranean sealed-surface events.

Renowned for its long stages, abrasive road surface and mountainous route, the Tour de Corse is one of the trickiest events of the season. Contour hugging roads and twisty stages have earned it the nickname 'rally of the thousand corners', while the cars, fitted with lowered suspension and wide, sticky tyres, are set-up to make the most of the racetrack-like surface. On the Corsican roads, under cornering, acceleration and braking, drivers will be subjected to the highest g-forces of the year.

The autumnal mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable in Corsica and is likely to play a significant role in the event's outcome. Bright sunshine can quickly give way to heavy rain, making accurate tyre selection and weather forecasting critical. Competition on the rally is notoriously fierce, with regular WRC drivers battling alongside French tarmac specialists, many having honed their skills on the National Tarmac Championship. In fact, only three non-French drivers have won the event in the past ten years, the last man to do so was Subaru's Petter Solberg in 2003.

Following a ceremonial start in the host town of Ajaccio on Thursday 14 October at 2000hrs, the event commences on Friday at 0830hrs. With one of the highest ratios of stage to road distance, the event features just six long stages, all of which are repeated. The longest stage, the Peri - Bastelica at 40.94km, will be used twice on Saturday, while the shortest, the Penitencier Coti Chiavari at 24.24km, will be run twice on the final day, Sunday 17 October. The event will conclude later that day when the winning car crosses the finish ramp in Ajaccio at 1430hrs.


Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti and their Xsara WRCs turn their attention to the Mediterranean island of Corsica where they hope to make the most of their chance to meet Citroën's target for 2004 by sewing up both the Manufacturers' and Drivers' titles. Thanks to its performances since the start of the year, as well as to the Xsara's reliability and the talent of its crews, the French squad is effectively very close today to pulling off a sensational championship double. Sebastien Loeb is only five points from his goal, while Citroën needs just seven points to put itself definitively out of reach of its rivals in the Manufacturers' standings-- with three rounds to come. Put in tennis terms, the Versailles-Satory-based team has three match points in hand. The fact that the first of these will be played out on the asphalt of Corsica is not, in theory, unfavourable. The result of August's Deutschland Rally confirmed how awesomely competitive the Xsara WRC continues to be on asphalt, while Sebastien Loeb has won both the asphalt rounds organised so far this year and Carlos Sainz finished on the podium in Germany. The team itself has twice finished on top in Ajaccio with the Xsara -- initially in Kit Car form, then with the WRC version -- and accordingly benefits from a comprehensive technical database for the car over the island's twisty roads--

Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "If I said I didn't want to win, who would believe me? Last year, I was leading until the eighth stage when I made a mistake that could easily have gone unpunished but which ended up costing me ten minutes. I love Corsica. I love the rally; it's the Rally of France. I believe we pleased our many fans on the Monte Carlo and in Germany and I would like to think we could do the same in Corsica. I also believe that winning would be an elegant way to clinch the championship--"

Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: What do you think of the format of this year's Tour of Corsica, with just two stages each day run twice? "I said at the beginning of the season, at the time of the Monte Carlo Rally, that I didn't find the format of a small number of stages run twice particularly enthralling for the drivers. Perhaps I'm just more sensitive to this sort of thing because of my past experience. For sure, times have changed. Even so, I would still prefer more stages while at the same time keeping to the maximum total competitive distance, not only for the sport but also, and above all, for the pleasure! That said, the fact that there aren't many different stages won't stop this being a great Tour of Corsica--"


After claiming a hat-trick of wins on the last three rounds of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship, The Subaru World Rally Team will be entering two cars in the Tour de Corse, driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Mikko Hirvonen (co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen). Last year Petter won the Tour de Corse in dramatic fashion after a heavy crash at the pre-event shakedown. Thanks to a remarkable effort from the team, which involved working through the night to repair the car, Petter took the start and went on to secure his first ever victory on tarmac. With only limited knowledge of the Corsican stages, Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen will be looking to gain more experience on tarmac in his Subaru Impreza WRC2004. He contested the event for the first time in 2003 and finished tenth.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "It's been really good fun to win the last three rallies. I've had such a good feeling in the car and everything came together on the events really, really well. There's a big difference between tarmac and gravel I think, I do like driving the tarmac events, but it's a different type of challenge. Last year, Corsica was amazing and it was fantastic to win. I think we were helped a little by the weather and some good tyre choices, but to make such a comeback was great - the team worked so hard that weekend. Looking to this year, we'll see what we can do. We're just going to try and get the best result we can."

Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "I don't have so much experience on tarmac compared to gravel. I completed quite a few rallies in different cars on asphalt a few years ago, but have not done so much in the last couple of years. When the car is good on asphalt and the tyres feel good, it's a brilliant feeling to drive, I love the feeling inside the car and it can sometimes be even better than driving on gravel - it really is great fun. Corsica is one of my favourite rallies, it's a really old, traditional type of event and easier to drive than Germany or Catalunya. It's twistier, which allows you to get a better rhythm in the car. The weather conditions can vary a lot on this event and it's more straightforward to drive when it's dry. When it's wet it can be more difficult to select the right tyres - but either way, it'll be a good event to compete in. My confidence has increased a lot recently, especially compared to the beginning of the year. I feel much happier in the car now and know how to handle it better. Petter has been helping a lot by advising me about settings and all the small pieces are now starting to come together."


With just three of the 16 rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship season remaining, it is late in the calendar for the BP-Ford World Rally Team to break new ground. Martin, fourth in the drivers' championship in his Castrol-branded Focus RS, is looking to improve on a best result of sixth on his Corsican debut in 2001. Martin also welcomed the return of safety (gravel) crews, which will be allowed to drive the stages before they close in the morning to relay the latest data on changing road conditions. They have been banned since January's Monte Carlo Rally but the FIA has since sanctioned their use for the final two asphalt rallies. "That's a positive decision which will help improve safety for the morning pass over the stages," he said. The Rallye de France provides Duval's best opportunity yet of claiming his maiden world rally victory. It is his favourite event of the season and, in contrast to his team-mate, the 23-year-old Belgian relishes the prospect of changing conditions -- the type of weather which the long-range forecast suggests is probable.

Markko Martin / Michael Park: "It's quite a straight-forward rally if conditions are consistent," said the 28-year-old Estonian. "But the weather is the main challenge. An island setting and the mountains mean things can change quickly and it's easy to be caught out on the wrong tyres for the conditions. I don't like mixed conditions at all. "The trend in recent years has been for smoother and less twisty roads but last year's event had some bumpy roads in there again. There are quite a few new roads this year so we'll have to see what they are like in the recce. It's a tricky event to practise because some stages pass through villages and it's difficult to make accurate notes there because of the traffic and cars parked on the natural driving line. The Focus has proved its pace on asphalt and I hope we can finally take a win on that surface with this car," he added.

Francios Duval / Philippe Droeven: "If the conditions are changeable, 50 percent wet and 50 per cent dry, then that will be good for me and a win would be possible. I'm used to driving in those conditions because that's what it was like in Belgium when I started my career. If it's dry I won't be so happy because then the advantage won't rest with me," said Duval, who claimed a career-best second in Germany in wet and slippery conditions in August. "Last year I finished third and a podium place is what I'm aiming for again. The roads are twisty, but quite fast in places, and the grip is generally good. I have a one-day test immediately before the recce starts which will allow me to perfect the set-up of the car and give me confidence going into the rally," added Duval, who has started the event three times, twice in a Focus RS and once in a two-wheel drive Ford Puma.


After the rough gravel of the recent Rally Italia Sardinia, the Peugeot 307WRC continues its Mediterranean tour with Rounds 14 and 15 of the 2004 championship that take competitors first to Corsica and then on to Catalonia. Peugeot's crews will be out to add to the make's winning record on both events.

Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "It is certainly one of my favourite asphalt rallies. The stages are narrow and twisty and more suited to my upbringing as a rally driver than is the case in Spain which requires more of a racing driving approach. I have a good feeling in Corsica, although I hope it doesn't rain. When it does, tyre choice becomes very difficult and can be a bit of a gamble,"

Cedric Robert / G. Bedon: "I am absolutely delighted that Peugeot has given me the chance to drive the 307 WRC again at the sport's highest level. I believe I can do even better than in Germany which was my first event at the wheel of a factory Peugeot WRC. So much was new and I admit I put myself under quite a lot of pressure, especially after Marcus retired on the first stage. In Corsica, I will benefit from the advantage of knowing not only the team better, but also the car and the stages. The 307WRC has progressed too since Germany, so my aim will be to finish on the podium, and why not on the highest step. The 307WRC has won on the loose already and has everything it takes to win on asphalt."

Freddy Loix / Sven Smeets: Not available.


Skoda Motorsport heads into its final two World Rally Championship events with a switch of specification from gravel to asphalt. The team confirmed in Sardinia its intention to re-enter the WRC as a fully registered Manufacturer team for 2005 and now concludes this season's Fabia WRC development programme with the two scheduled rallies in Corsica (October 15 -- 17) and Catalunya (October 29 -- 31). For the first of the two events the Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team driver line-up will be the familiar pairing of Armin Schwarz and Toni Gardemeister.

Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "Corsica is one of the nicest asphalt rallies but it has changed a lot in recent years. The surface is smoother but with this new format of long stages and reduced service it will still be a big challenge. The important thing is to have a reliable car because if you have even a small problem you can be out of the top results very quickly with this format."

Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: "The first time I came to Corsica I hated it but now I've been more times I quite like the rally. This year it only uses long stages which I enjoy but we must see what the weather does as it will definitely affect tyre choice."

Event Statistics

- The total length of the 2004 Tour of Corsica is 1,060.72 km, including 387.80 km divided into 12 special stages (6 different).

- The location of the single service park has moved from Campo dell'Oro to the maritime freight terminal in the centre of Ajaccio.

- Recce (two runs) takes place over Wednesday October 13th (07:00 until 18:30) and Thursday October 14th (07:00 until 13:00).

- The first three stages are described as new. In fact they are in many cases variants or modified versions of known tests, although that detracts nothing from their selective nature. The finish of 'Ampaza' has moved from Petreto to St. Eustache. 'Aullène -- Arbellara' is a longer version of 'Pont de Zerubia -- Pont d'Acoravo' which hasn't been used since 1985. 'Vico -- Col de Sarzoggiu' (by the Gulf of Sagone and La Cinarca) is an interesting combination of a number of known sections that have been used in both directions over the years. The other three stages were run in 2003.

- The shakedown stage (Thursday October 14th, from 13:00 until 16:00) once again uses a 6.94 km section of road between 'Capo di Feno' and 'St. Antoine' which was formerly the opening stage of the Tour of Corsica. A special service park will organised in Santa Lina (Route des Sanguinaires) for this final pre-event test run.

- A start ceremony will be organised in Place Foch, Ajaccio, on Thursday October 14th at 20:00.

- Leg 1 (Friday October 15th): 396.41 km, including 121.34 km divided into 4 stages. Starts from the service park at 08:30; 'Ampaza - Col St Eustache 1'/'Aullène - Arbellara 1'; Service A (12:44, 20 minutes); 'Ampaza - Col St Eustache 2 '/'Aullène - Arbellara 2'; Service B (17:55, 45 minutes); Cars enter parc ferme at 18:40.

- Leg 2 (Saturday October 16th): 421.56 km, including 154.36 km divided into 4 stages. Starts from the service park at 07:40; Service C (07:40, 10 minutes); 'Vico - Col de Sarzoggiu 1'; RTFZ in Campo dell'Oro (10:28, 10 minutes); 'Peri - Bastelica 1'; Service D (12:44, 20 minutes); 'Vico - Col de Sarzoggiu 2': RTFZ in Campo dell'Oro (16:07, 10 minutes); 'Peri - Bastelica 2'; Service E (18:20, 45 minutes); cars enter parc ferme from 19:05.

- Remote Tyre Fitting Zones (RTFZ) have been scheduled between SS5 and 6, and between SS7 and 8. These 10-minute mini service parks are essentially a chance to fit fresh tyres. The regulations allow a maximum of two mechanics to work on a car, using only a jack, ramps, axle-stands, wheel-brace, a torque wrench and ordinary water, plus any parts and tools carried in the rally car. The crew may also work on their car.

- Leg 3 (Sunday October 17th): 242.75 km, including 112.10 km divided into 4 stages. Starts from the service park at 07:20. Service F (07:20, 10 minutes); 'Penitencier Coti Chiavari - Pietra Rossa 1'/'Pont de Calzola - Agosta 1'; Service G (10:24, 20 minutes); 'Penitencier Coti Chiavari - Pietra Rossa 2':'Pont de Calzola - Agosta 2'; Service H (14:00, 20 minutes); Rally finishes at the service out control; Finish ceremony from 14:30.

- Tyres: two types of pattern are authorised per team. They were registered four weeks prior to the start. The individual driver quota (tyres identified by bar-codes and nominated on Monday October 11th) is 80 tyres in Corsica, 40 of which may be used during the event.

Weather Forecast
The weather is notoriously changeable in October, the mountainous terrain and island location only adding to the unpredictability. Dry roads and warm sunshine can quickly turn to torrential rain and streaming asphalt and vice-versa. It places huge importance on the accuracy of weather reports and predictions from team personnel stationed in the mountains -- key factors in the tyre selection which can turn a rally for or against a driver.


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Armin Schwarz , Timo Rautiainen , Michael Park , Daniel Elena , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Cédric Robert , Toni Gardemeister , Paavo Lukander , Sven Smeets , Jarmo Lehtinen , Philippe Droeven , Markko Martin
Teams Citroën World Rally Team