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 ...
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.
Tour de Corse runs with a slightly modified route for 2005 but retains the features that have made it one of the most challenging of the season. The long stages hug the contours of the mountains around the Corsican capital, Ajaccio, with sheer rock on one side and vertiginous drops on the other. Drivers are put under extreme physical and mental pressure with the highest g-forces of the year as the roads twist and turn and keeping the 'racing line' takes on particular significance as even the smallest error can spell retirement. With abrasive tar, high tyre wear and dust added to the mix, the rally is amongst the most punishing of the year.
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 action kicks off with the ceremonial start at the Place Foch in Ajaccio on Thursday night, with the event starting on Friday at 0918hrs with the Ampaza-Col St Eustache test run to the east of the service park. The rally comprises just six stages run twice, but the percentage of stage kilometres to the overall rally distance is one of the highest in the championship. Over one third of the total event distance is run competitively, with the longest stage on Leg two, the 36.24km Vico-Col de Sarzoggiu pass. The shortest comes on Leg three, Acqua Doria-Serra di Ferro at 15.92km. The podium finish will be held in Ajaccio on Sunday at 1350hrs.
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), Stéphane Sarrazin (co-driven by Denis Giraudet) and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). On this event Petter and Stéphane 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. Stéphane Sarrazin contests the rally for the second time in a WRC car, while Chris Atkinson makes his second-ever WRC appearance on tarmac.
"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."
"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."
"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."
The Car / The Challenge
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth
"The rally of a thousand corners is not actually as twisty as it once was. It used to be unbelievably twisty with the slowest average speed of the year, run on extremely narrow, abrasive, bumpy mountain roads. The event has changed over the last few years and now only uses roads to the south of the island near the capital Ajaccio. The modifications have made the rally a bit faster and wider, but the road still remains relatively twisty.
Although the slowest asphalt rally of the year, Corsica has now become a bit more of a race as the roads have become smoother with resurfacing. Although the asphalt is less abrasive than it was five to 10 years ago, the surface is quite rough and tyre wear will be high as the distance between tyre changes has grown. We go to the island at the end of October so there is also a chance that rain could be a factor. The landscape is quite dramatic and there can be heavy localised showers - it's not unusual for drivers to set out in warm, sunny conditions and then radio from the start of the stage that there has been a downpour. When it does rain the mountain roads get very slippery and with one racing line, it will be very tough.
Drivers have to be so precise at this event. Normally there is an optimum line through a corner, but on gravel you can run wide and still set the fastest time through the stage. An inch here or there is not going to make a huge difference on a loose surface, but on asphalt it could be the difference between staying on the road and retiring. There is no margin for error and the concentration levels are at their highest as drivers must stay on the very narrow strip. To add to the drivers' pressure, the twisty corners give some of the highest g-forces and grip levels of the championship.
This rally will be one of the toughest to win. Sebastien Loeb is on his home event with the championship in the bag and his confidence will be high - he's got nothing to lose. Nevertheless we have every chance of a podium and we will be ready to pounce if he makes a mistake. We should be hopeful and confident of performing well. Stéphane is still relatively inexperienced at the world championship level, but he's done this event before in a WRC car and is more familiar with the terrain than any rally he's previously done. He has also done a fair amount of testing and is now familiar with the car and the tyres so his confidence is high. He could well be in for a shot at the podium.
This is Chris' first Tour de Corse and only his second-ever tarmac event in a WRC car. Nevertheless we've seen before that he's a fast learner. The goal for him will be to gain as much experience as possible."
Between the Rallies
Petter and Chris travelled back from the Far East to pay their respects to their close friend Michael Park at his funeral in the week following Rally Japan. Petter then headed out to for an intensive three-day test in Spain, completing one day and Stéphane two days.
Chris Atkinson had some leisure time as he travelled to Perth, Scotland, to spend time with a friend. Despite heavy rain, Chris enjoyed the short stop in the Highlands, his first time north of the border.