After mastering the torturously twisty roads of the Cyprus Rally in convincing style earlier this month, the Ford Martini team island-hops from one Mediterranean holiday resort to another to start the Tour of Corsica (29 September - 1 October) as...
After mastering the torturously twisty roads of the Cyprus Rally in convincing style earlier this month, the Ford Martini team island-hops from one Mediterranean holiday resort to another to start the Tour of Corsica (29 September - 1 October) as clear leaders in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Victory in Cyprus for Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya in their Ford Focus World Rally Car and second place for team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist stretched the Ford Martini team's advantage at the top of the manufacturers' standings to 15 points. The 1-2 finish also kept both partnerships firmly in contention in the drivers' series with just four of the 14 rounds remaining.
The special stages in Corsica are asphalt, unlike the tough gravel rounds in Cyprus, but there is a key similarity between the two rallies. The mountain roads on the French island are twisty, narrow and physically demanding. The weather high in the mountains is notoriously unpredictable, sunshine often turning to rain in minutes, but islanders say the switch from May to September should provide more consistency.
The teams have had almost six months since the last asphalt round in Spain to improve their cars' performance on that surface. It is Ford Martini on which they must set their sights, McRae and Sainz having finished first and third on the Spanish event.
"The car was very good in Spain but that's a long time ago and Corsica has a very different character," said 38-year-old Sainz, fourth in the championship and just seven points behind leader Marcus Grönholm. "We've tested in Corsica and made a few small improvements to the car in comparison to Spain but until we start we won't know what improvements other teams have made.
"My win in Cyprus was vital for my championship hopes. In some ways it could be an advantage to be seven points behind the leader because it keeps the pressure off me but I would rather I was seven points in front! Corsica is a tough rally because the roads are twisty and tyres are so important. If the weather is changeable, three days' good work can be ruined by one poor tyre choice," added Sainz, winner on the island in 1991 and three times runner-up.
McRae and Grist are the partnership in form with a win and three seconds from their last four outings. "Four drivers have a chance of winning the title but I think the situation will be a little clearer after Corsica and Sanremo," said 32-year-old McRae. "They're both classic asphalt rallies which may not suit Marcus Grönholm who doesn't have so much experience of either event. It's a good opportunity for any one of the four of us to score well and put themselves into a good position with just Australia and Britain remaining."
"Corsica's roads are very challenging and it's a hard rally for a driver. The regulations restrict the size of tyre we can use and as a result we can't push as hard as we would like. We must drive to the limits of the tyres rather than the limits of the driver or the car and that can be frustrating," added McRae.
Piero Liatti and Carlo Cassina will drive a third Focus World Rally Car, the Italian asphalt experts making their Ford debut. "I've had a little time to drive the car and it feels very good," said 38-year-old Liatti. "My first experience of the Focus was on a wet and muddy gravel forest stage which wasn't ideal for Corsica but I was impressed and hopefully I will quickly get used to it on asphalt. The shakedown test in Corsica will be vital in allowing me proper asphalt driving in the car before the rally starts."
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson plans to give Liatti the role of testing the team's new semi-automatic gearchange system for the first time in competition. "Colin and Carlos tried it in testing and were pleased with it," said Wilson. "It's the perfect opportunity for us to try it in competition without jeopardising our championship challenge if there are any problems. If it works well, Colin and Carlos will use it in Sanremo next month."
The system runs hydraulically, using electronics rather than the traditional cable-operated manual system. The time benefits are negligible but the electronics remove the possibility of driver error. Once the driver pushes or pulls the new aluminium gearstick, electronics control the shift from that point, removing the possibility of a missed gear change.
Resurfacing work on Corsica's mountain roads has done little to detract from the event's nickname of Rally of the 10,000 Corners. The bends, endless bumps and awkward cambers have earned the rally its reputation as one of motor sport's most demanding events and one of the most difficult for the Ford Martini team's tyre partner, Michelin.
Engineers estimate that tyre dimensions, restricted by the sport's rules, are about 20 percent lower than the ideal for Corsica. Nevertheless Michelin must still provide rubber which gives excellent steering response, consistency right to the end of the longest stages and good lateral grip - all while coping with forces of up to 2G in many corners.
Like the Monte Carlo Rally, one of the big problems is having to choose a single type of tyre for two stages on which the weather conditions can be very different. To ensure accurate information, Ford Martini and Michelin will use weather crews to drive the stages at the last possible moment before the roads are closed to relay information about conditions. These details are then used in deciding what pattern and compound of tyre to use.
The route remains faithful to its usual format, with the first and last legs following an identical schedule near the rally base of Ajaccio, while the second day heads north to be based around Corte. Long stages are the norm, with just 18 in the rally, each leg comprising around 130km of competition. There are 389km of stages in the1126km route.
<pre> 2000 TOUR OF CORSICA
ROUND 11 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
29 SEPTEMBER - 1 OCTOBER 2000
Friday 29 September: Leg 1 Ajaccio - Ajaccio Start Ajaccio 08.00 SS1 Vero - Pont d'Azzana 18.22km 09.08 SS2 Lopigna - Sarrola 29.96km 09.56 SS3 Bellevalle - Pietra Rossa 20.84km 12.04 SS4 Filitosa - Bicchisano 22.47km 12.49 SS5 Cuttoli - Peri 17.34km 15.02 SS6 Gare de Carbuccia - Tavera 20.04km 15.40 Finish Ajaccio 17.55 Total 128.87km
Saturday 30 September: Leg 2 Ajaccio - Ajaccio Start Ajaccio 07.00 SS7 Morosaglia - Campile 31.91km 09.48 SS8 Taverna - Pont de Castirla 16.14km 11.01 SS9 Noceta - Muracciole 16.60km 12.53 SS10 Feo - Col San Quilico 24.06km 13.51 SS11 Pont Saint Laurent - Bustanico 26.44km 15.52 SS12 Feo - Altiani 16.52km 16.40 Finish Ajaccio 19.50 Total 131.67km
Sunday 1 October: Leg 3 Ajaccio - Ajaccio Start Ajaccio 06.30 SS13 Vero - Pont d'Azzana 18.22km 07.38 SS14 Lopigna - Sarrola 29.96km 08.26 SS15 Bellevalle - Pietra Rossa 20.84km 10.34 SS16 Filitosa - Bicchisano 22.47km 11.19 SS17 Cuttoli - Peri 17.34km 13.32 SS18 Gare de Carbuccia - Tavera 20.04km 14.10 Finish Ajaccio 16.15 Total 128.87km
Rally Total 389.41km