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 travel to Corsica next week for the 14th of the 16-event series, the French Tour de Corse. Starting on Friday ...
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 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.
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.
"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."
"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."
The Car / The Challenge
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth:
"At this time of year, weather is likely to play a large factor. You can win or lose the event on tyre choice, and I think what won the rally for us last year was reading the weather conditions right and getting the tyres choices right, those things could well be factors again this year.
"The weather is often unpredictable, but even in the dry it's a tricky rally as the roads are abrasive and rough. The drivers get the stiffest necks because it's so twisty and bumpy, while the roads generate the highest tyre wear, the highest grip level and the highest temperatures so you have to look after the tyres - being fast over 50km is very different to being fast over the first 5km. Drivers need exceptional concentration on this event as the fastest way to drive on asphalt isn't necessarily the most spectacular or most aggressive. They need to build confidence early in the rally, and ensure that they're pushing the car to just the right level. If you're a little bit too hard, it feels like you're going faster, but actually the tyres are going off and you're losing speed so it's important to find the perfect balance between aggression, commitment and technique, and a calm, gentle way of coaxing the best out of the tyres. Otherwise, you'll lose time and find it difficult to explain why. You can't fight to get the best out of the car, instead you have to find that perfect rhythm.
"Set-up wise, Subaru has a good history in Corsica and we don't expect to do anything radical for the rally. It'll be a combination of all those years of experience. We've completed three days of tarmac testing this week, so there will have been some further evolutions made to the set up and, as this is the first classic tarmac event with the Subaru Impreza WRC2004, there will be some changes in the details of springs, dampers and roll bars. We're expecting the new car to work well on tarmac. A lot of the work we've done on the new car has an even bigger effect on tarmac than it does on gravel and, as we've shown the step forward the car has made on loose surface events, we're hoping it will be an even bigger step on tarmac. Pirelli have also been working hard on the tyres and have made some good progress. However, we won't really know where we are until we see the times from the first stage in Corsica. The benchmark is moving forward all the time and we don't know what Michelin and the other teams have been doing."