Tour de Corse - Ford World Rally Team - Preview
Just four days after turning off their engines in Spain, BP-Ford World Rally Team will fire up its Focus RS World Rally Cars for the second instalment of the FIA World Rally Championship's asphalt double header in the Mediterranean.
The location this time is the craggy island of Corsica where Rallye de France (11-14 October) offers competitors a totally different challenge to the one they have just faced on Rally de España.
This 13th round of the series is regarded as the definitive asphalt encounter. Spain's fast, smooth flowing roads will be replaced by narrow and tortuously twisty ribbons of frequently broken asphalt. The mountain speed tests are tough enough to master, but the likelihood of unpredictable weather makes the challenge even more difficult for both drivers and their support teams.
BP-Ford goes into the event with a 39-point lead in its quest for a second manufacturers' world title with the Focus RS World Rally Car. Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen lead the drivers' standings by six points as they bid for a third world title in their final season of competition. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie third.
After one year in April, the rally has moved back to autumn but the weather may be just as unsettled as mountainous terrain and an island location means rain is always likely.
Dry roads and warm sunshine can rapidly become torrential rain and streaming asphalt and vice-versa. It places huge importance on the accuracy of weather reports and forecasts from team personnel located in the mountains – key factors in tyre selection, which is sometimes made three hours before the final special stage of a group and which can turn the rally for or against a driver.
Formerly nicknamed the Rally of 10,000 Corners, the event has evolved considerably in recent years. Roads that twist and turn around the contours of a mountain with a rock face on one side and huge drops into the sea on the other are less frequent. And in places the broken asphalt has been resurfaced with a smoother covering. But the roads are still abrasive, providing good grip but requiring hard-wearing tyres, and this remains the ultimate sealed surface challenge.
Grönholm, who was third in Spain, will be starting Corsica for the eighth time. Second in 2002 and 2006 are his best results and the 39-year-old Finn is hoping to find a similar pace this year.
"We proved this weekend that in dry conditions we have the right package to match Loeb and Sordo on asphalt, a surface on which they excel," he said. "I don't like wet and slippery conditions and if we do experience bad weather then we have to work hard to ensure we can fight with them then as well. I really hope it is dry though. I feel happier on the Corsican stages than on the roads in Spain. They are more like traditional rally stages than a race circuit. I was second there last year and hopefully I can do the same again at least."
"As ever in Corsica we must keep a careful eye on the weather. It is an island so things can change quickly and it is easy to be caught out on the wrong tyres because the weather in the mountains is different to that in the service park. One mistake in tyre selection can ruin an otherwise excellent rally. But we have experienced people in the team whose job it is too monitor the weather and help with tyre choice so we have the best advice," added Grönholm.
Last season's fourth place was Hirvonen's best Corsica finish from three starts and the 27-year-old Finn would like to improve on that this year. "I'm going to try for a podium and if the conditions stay dry then I have a good chance. With nothing to fight for on the last leg in Spain I was able to try a few different things on the car in preparation for Corsica," he said.
"Corsica is completely different to the rally we've just driven," said Hirvonen. "It is the classic asphalt rally and a real challenge for a driver. It's so twisty, it is just corner after corner after corner with no straights at all. It's bumpy and abrasive but it's also my favourite asphalt rally, even though it is easier to be competitive in Spain than it is here."
Ford World Rally Team