Two weeks after Rally Catalunya, the FIA World Rally Championship makes a short hop east across the Mediterranean from Spain to the French island of Corsica. The legendary Tour de Corse, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2006, takes place from...
Two weeks after Rally Catalunya, the FIA World Rally Championship makes a short hop east across the Mediterranean from Spain to the French island of Corsica. The legendary Tour de Corse, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2006, takes place from 7-9 April on the roads around the island's capital Ajaccio. Just like Rally Catalunya, the Tour de Corse is an asphalt event, although the characters of both differ hugely.
The Spanish asphalt is relatively smooth and new, whereas the Corsican Tarmac can be coarse and abrasive. Drivers go deep into the corners in Spain, however cutting corners in Corsica is rare as the narrow roads hug the sides of the mountains. With sheer rock face on one side and steep drops on the other, getting exactly the right line in Corsica is crucial.
Dubbed the 'rally of ten thousand corners,' the event is characterised by hard acceleration away from one corner before braking heavily for the next within a few hundred metres. The g-forces generated in the corners are the highest in the championship -- at times in excess of 1.5g laterally, more than double the amount generated by the standard road-going Impreza.
The Corsican weather can be as dramatic as the landscape. Within an hour bright sunshine can give way to heavy rain as warm sea air meets the cool mountain breeze. This year the rally takes place in early Spring with the mountains still snow-capped. Should temperatures rise just a few degrees, the snow will melt and saturate the roads with water.
Comprising 354.18 competitive kilometres, the 2006 Tour de Corse route is largely unchanged from last year. The formidable Vico -- Col de Sarzoggiu has been shortened by 2.1km to finish at the Plage de Liamone and the Penitencier Coti -- Pietra Rossa stage makes a return to the itinerary. The stage was last used in 2004. No stage is shorter than 24km and the route has one of the highest ratios of competitive kilometres to overall distance. There's also a new location for the ceremonial start in Place du Casone, where cars will cross the ramp in the shadow of a monument to Napoleon, who was born on the island.
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two Subaru Impreza WRC2006 cars in the Tour de Corse. Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Stephane Sarrazin (co-driven by Stephane Prevot) will drive both drive 2006 cars and will be eligible to score points towards the manufacturers' championship.
Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall) will drive a Subaru Impreza WRC2005 entered by Subaru Australia.
Corsica is historically a good event for the Subaru World Rally Team and they go to the island optimistic of a good result. The team has won three times in the past 10 years, including 2003 when Petter Solberg scored a famous victory after crashing heavily on shakedown. Stephane Sarrazin also has a strong record in the event finishing sixth on his Corsican debut in 2004 in a privately-entered Subaru Impreza before equalling his best-ever WRC finish when he finished fourth overall with the Subaru World Rally Team in 2005.
Petter Solberg: "The Tour de Corse is a very good event. I think compared to Rally Spain the stages and the asphalt will suit us better. In the past the Corsican roads were more abrasive as the surface was much older, however nowadays there's not so much of the old Tarmac left. On the whole our car and tyres match the event very well. My objective is to try for a podium again. That's my aim, we'll just have to see how we get on."
Stephane Sarrazin: "I feel very positive about this rally. We've done Corsica twice before and both times we've had a good result and fought with the quickest cars. In 2004 we came sixth and last year fourth, which was a great result in front of my home crowd. For sure Spain was a difficult rally for us but we'll try and improve for Corsica and fight for positions. I want to finish in the top five."
Chris Atkinson: "The team has always had better results in Corsica than in Spain so we're optimistic of a good overall result. With the improvements we found in Spain we'll also have a chance of finishing higher up the order. My speed on asphalt is increasing all the time and we're looking to be consistent. Our goal, as always, is to get some points and to be competitive with the rest of the field."
THE CAR / THE CHALLENGE
Subaru World Rally Team sporting director, Luis Moya: "The team is going to Corsica fully focused on maximising our performance and achieving a better result than we did in Spain. We have spent a lot of time in the build-up to the Tour de Corse analysing every aspect of the team's performance in the last rally, including the car, the drivers and the tyres. We remain positive about the testing we did before Spain and continue to work closely with Pirelli to optimise results. We're very keen to compare the performance of the car and the tyres in Corsica and hope we'll gather more data to pinpoint steps forward.
The aim for Corsica is for both Petter and Stephane to finish in the top five to score as many drivers' and manufacturers' points as possible. We shouldn't forget that the cars ran reliably in Spain, we got a double points finish and we came third and fourth in the manufacturers' championship. If we get the strategy right this time, we will be even better.
Chris' target on this event is to learn and gain more experience on asphalt. This is his second time in Corsica and he has to continue to develop a high level of pace before he returns to the nominated car in Argentina. We are doing everything to ensure we can meet our objectives in Corsica."
Subaru World Rally Team director of engineering, Steve Farrell: "We're looking forward to the Tour de Corse with optimism. We've historically had good results in the event and there's no reason why that should change. We've learnt from the lessons of Spain and spent a lot of time at the end of that event fine-tuning the Impreza WRC2006, looking at the tyre package and feeding through improvements for Corsica.
We've got to look at Spain and Corsica as completely different events. Even though they are both asphalt, they have different characters, with Corsica playing much more to our strengths. The French roads are more twisty and abrasive, compared to the Spanish roads that are much more flowing and open.
We've seen before in the past that strategy also plays a major part in Corsica and getting the right set-up for the conditions is essential. If we get the strategy right, we've got as much chance as anybody else. We're approaching the event in a determined mood."
BETWEEN THE RALLIES
Petter Solberg flew directly from Rally Catalunya to Sardinia for three days of testing. The Norwegian and co-driver Phil Mills tested on three different gravel roads over the three days to provide set-up information for the forthcoming loose surface rallies. After the test Petter returned home to see wife Pernilla and son Oliver.
It had been three weeks since Stephane Sarrazin had seen his six-month old baby son Pablo and girlfriend Camille, so he quickly returned home to make up for lost time. Stephane also spent time training on his bike and motorcycle in the countryside around his house.
Chris Atkinson and co-driver Glenn Macneall visited Barcelona for two days after Rally Catalunya. Chris admits that he did do some sightseeing as well as some fitness training! The Australian was very impressed with the city, saying it was 'one of the best places I've been in Europe.' The pair then jumped on a plane to Sardinia for two days gravel testing.