Tour de Corse : Ford World Rally Team - Preview
Centenary celebrations will surround the BP-Ford World Rally Team when the Rallye de France Tour de Corse (20 - 23 October) marks the 100th start for the Ford Focus in the FIA World Rally Championship. The car made its debut
on the opening round of the 1999 series in Monte Carlo and the second French-based asphalt event in this year's 16-round championship will mark the car's anniversary.
The Focus has won 16 world rallies in the hands of three drivers. Colin McRae claimed nine victories, Markko Märtin won five events and Carlos Sainz was twice victorious. Including the wins, the Focus has claimed 59 podium finishes in its first 99 events.
Corsica's mountain roads host the first of two asphalt events on consecutive weekends. Narrow, long and twisty speed tests on the western side of the craggy Mediterranean island will demand precision driving from Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and BP-Ford team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tománek. The roads are difficult enough to master, but the unpredictable weather in the mountains adds an extra challenge and places additional demands on teams.
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.
The rally has evolved considerably in the past decade. Incredibly twisty sections, which follow the contours of a mountain around the rock face on one side with huge drops into the sea on the other, are less frequent. And some roads, which were often covered in broken asphalt that caused high tyre wear, have been resurfaced and are smoother. However, the asphalt remains abrasive, providing good grip but requiring hard-wearing tyres.
The Focus RS World Rally Car was victorious in Corsica last year, the first of two consecutive asphalt wins, and both Gardemeister and Kresta will hope to use the data and set-up specification from 2004 to good effect.
This will be 30-year-old Gardemeister's fifth start on the rally and he has a 100 per cent finishing record to date. "The first time I competed in Corsica was in 2000 and I hated the rally," he said. "Since then I've started to like it more and now the only thing I hate about it is the weather. It's virtually impossible to predict what the weather is going to do in the mountains when we're sitting in the service park next to the sea trying to decide what tyres to choose. And if a driver is caught on dry weather tyres in the rain, it's easy to lose a minute or two on just one stage.
"I don't think the roads are any less twisty than they were, but they are certainly wider. The real difficulty with the stages is the surface. It changes all the time and there are so many different types of asphalt that there is no real consistency. It's unpredictable. We will not have a pre-event test but if the set-up is good on shakedown, and we have good information available after last year's win for the car, I don't think it will be a problem," he said.
Kresta's only previous start was in 2002 and the 29-year-old Czech will treat this year's rally as a new event. "I spoke with Jan (Tománek) earlier this week and while some stages are similar to 2002, we decided that we should treat the rally as a new one in terms of preparation," said Kresta. "The roads are very twisty, quite like the Monte Carlo Rally in parts. After the Rallye Deutschland I feel comfortable and confident with the Focus on asphalt. It's a good car on all surfaces but last year's win in Corsica proves how suited it is to asphalt. I'll use the base set-up from last year and make any changes during the shakedown.
"Everyone talks about the weather and tyres, but this is the most difficult part of the event. It's not just the contrast between the service park next to the sea and the mountains where the stages are run. There is also the problem of having to choose tyres nearly three hours before a stage starts. The weather can change several times in that period," added Kresta.
The itinerary is similar to 2004, with each leg comprising a morning loop of two stages which is repeated in the afternoon after service in the port area of Ajaccio. After a ceremonial start in the centre of Ajaccio on Thursday evening, Friday's opening leg is identical to last year on roads south-east of the town.
The second leg on Saturday is the longest. It covers tests north of the town and a stretch of road which has never been rallied before, as well as the climb of the 1193m Col de Scalella, the highest point of the rally. The last day is based south of Ajaccio and includes a brand new stage with marvellous views overlooking the Gulf of Ajaccio.
Drivers face 12 stages covering 341.68km in a total route of 1023.82km. The event remains one of the most compact in the championship with more than 33 per cent of the route being competitive.
Press release Ford World Rally Team