2016 Tour de Corse Review

Seb came to this event having never won on the roads of Corsica. He was looking to set the record straight. Here’s the story of his victory which has taken him to the brink of his fourth world championship.

Jari-Matti won the event last year becoming the first Finn to do so for three decades.

Now as well as the usual protagonists’ in this event, Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT were here as well, with Kris and Craig each having a DS3 to drive.

Here’s a reminder of the stages that made this year’s Tour de Corse.

Friday 30th September: Leg 1

SS 1-3: Acqua Doria – Albitreccia (49.72 Km)

SS 2/4: Plage Du Liamone – Sarolla Carcopino (29,12 Km)

Saturday 1st October: Leg 2

SS 5-7: Orezza – La Porta – Valle Di Rostino (53.72 Km)

SS 6/8: Novella – Pietralba (30,80 Km)

Sunday 2nd October: Leg 3

SS 9: Antisanti – Poggio Di Nazza (53,78 Km)

SS 10: Porto-Vecchio – Palombaggia (10,42 Km) – Power Stage

So, the action started early on Friday morning! First driver in was championship leader Seb… He stormed through the nearly 50km stage in 30 minutes, 24 seconds, setting an average speed of 98 kph! Kris was just 4 seconds behind that time in second place with Spanish ace Dani a further 8 tenths behind in third. Last year’s winner, Jari-Matti was already 18 seconds off the leader, he just couldn’t get on the pace at all.

Stage two then and Seb made it look easy, going 8.7 seconds faster the Thierry, and Kris had a spin in this one, thus setting the fourth quickest time, but crucially keeping his second place on the overall leaderboard. Dani fell down to fourth, as he was 4 seconds slower than Thierry through the 30km stage.

Moving into the afternoon stages then and with a rerun of the same two stages, they all lined up, ready to blast into the 50km stage again.

It was another stage win for Seb with him averaging 98.8kph through here, and sadly this is where the challenge from Kris and Paul in the Citroen came to an end. They picked up a puncture somewhere in the stage and given the length of it, pulled over and changed the tyre, thus losing over two minutes and 27 seconds to Seb. This of course meant that everyone behind moved up a place. Now Jari-Matti was still losing more time and was now nearly 50 seconds off first place, albeit running in fourth place. Craig, Kris’ teammate was now in sixth place, so finding his feet on the tricky stages.

Now the last stage of the day, but with 130km’s already behind them, certainly not an easy day! Well, Seb made it four stage wins out of four! Kris was making good progress though setting the second fastest time on the same stage that he got the puncture earlier, just ten seconds slower that Seb through here and with Jari-Matti just 6 tenths behind Kris. With this he’d moved up into a podium position.

So, here was the leaderboard at the end of day one:

01 Ogier (VW) 1h 37m 52.8s

02 Neuville +44.0s

03 Latvala (VW) +58.0s

04 Mikkelsen (VW) +59.3s

05 Breen +1m 18.7s

06 Paddon +1m 26.2s

07 Camilli +2m 00.7s

08 Sordo +2m 39.1s

09 Østberg +2m 41.9s

10 Meeke +2m 51.9s

Here’s the thoughts of the top three then:

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1: “An ideal opening day for Julien and me – beautiful stages, superb weather and a perfect car. The key to stage one was to find our rhythm. Looking at the lead we opened, we appear to have done just that. It was pretty hot in the cockpit in the afternoon, particularly on the long 50-kilometre stage. We have a similarly demanding day ahead of us tomorrow, particularly if the weather deteriorates. However, we obviously want to continue as we were today, to make sure we win in the end. That is definitely the goal at our home rally.”

Thierry Neuville said: “We had a good morning loop despite experiencing some small issues with the brakes towards the end of the opening stage. We could see on the last split that I lost around five seconds. That was a shame but we made improvements on the second stage. We haven’t been able to take the fight to Ogier today, but we are second, which will hopefully set us up nicely for the rest of the weekend. There are a few more details we want to adjust to make the behaviour of the car more consistent, but it’s a decent start to the rally.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2: “We were a little too cautious at first, but gradually found our rhythm the further into the rally we got. We can make a few improvements here and there, for example when braking, but apart from that we are racing the right way for the Rally Corsica. That only makes the outstanding times set by our team-mate Sébastien Ogier all the more astonishing. Hats off to his performance. We will obviously try to stick with him tomorrow and on Sunday. If we can, we have a good chance of finishing on the podium.”

The rest of the drivers:

Volkswagen Motorsport:

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9: “We are not so much focusing on winning the world championship, but more on securing second place. With that in mind, we are going nicely in fourth place. I struggled to know how hard to brake in the morning. Unfortunately, we lost a lot of time as a result. Apart from that, though, it was a good day for us, but we have two more challenging days ahead to come.”

Hyundai Motorsport:

Hayden Paddon said: “I’m definitely feeling more comfortable on these Corsican stages in the dry conditions we have had today. It’s not been a perfect day but we can see some positives, as well as some places to improve. We needed some adjustments to our pace notes after the opening run. The car was sliding around too much but we found a better direction for the repeat loop. It was a case of building things up step by step. We were doing precisely that but we had a puncture 8km from the end of the final stage, which lost us a bit of time. We’ll just work to take the positives from today forward into the rest of the weekend and see if we can break into the top-five.”

Dani Sordo said: “It’s been far from a good start to the rally for us. I didn’t have a good feeling in the first stage this morning but we had a decent time. It was then the opposite in stage two; I felt good in the car but the time was not there. We also had some issues with the brakes, the same as some other drivers. We wanted to make improvements in the afternoon loop and to consolidate our top-three position. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible because we had a rear puncture in the first half of the final stage, so we had to stop to change tyre. We lost nearly two minutes of time as a result which has dropped us down the classification. We will try to make up ground tomorrow and see what we can pick up.”

M-Sport WRT:

Éric Camilli (7th) said: “It has been a really good day for us. We started carefully and stage after stage our confidence grew and we were able to push a little bit more.

“We had a good run this afternoon and I was happy with our pace. In the last stage, the pacenotes for every single corner were exactly as they should be – for the entire 30 kilometres. That was a very important milestone and it gives us more confidence moving forward.

“I still have a lot of things to learn, but I think we have made a really good step today and I’m looking forward to what tomorrow has to offer.”

Mads Østberg (10th) said: “We’re trying something different with our driving on Tarmac. It’s not been an easy day, but it has been an interesting one and I am quite happy with all of the things that we have been able to try.

“We had some issues with the brake cooling this afternoon and lost quite a lot of time but, to be honest, that doesn’t matter so much. We are here to test our training and we can still work on that.

“We have a new plan for tomorrow – which isn’t too far away from where we were today. Step by step we are just trying to make something that doesn’t feel comfortable to me, comfortable. It will take some time, but it is a positive thing to be trying something different.”

Elfyn Evans (8th / 1st WRC 2) said: “It’s been a good day, but not an easy one by all means. These stages are absolutely fantastic but they can also be quite demanding and I’m really pleased to be where we are at the moment as we didn’t have the opportunity for a pre-event test.

“The plan will be to keep extending our lead tomorrow. It’s still quite a close fight with Jan [Kopecky]. He’s been driving pretty hard and won two of the stages so we need to keep on it.”

Abu Dhabi WRT:

Craig Breen: “I was pleasantly surprised today. I didn’t know what to expect at the start of the first stage, because I still have so many things to learn on tarmac in a WRC. My rhythm was good, but I had a few problems managing the tyres over these long stages. For the second loop, we decided to take two spare tyres – even if it meant losing a bit of time – and I also adjusted my driving style. Overall, I’m very pleased to finish in the top five on my first day on tarmac. We’ll need to put into practice some of the things we’ve learned today, especially as tomorrow’s stages look more difficult to me.”

Kris Meeke: “The morning went pretty well. On the opening stage of the afternoon, I don’t know what happened but I felt that we had lost some grip on the left-hand side. I kept going for a bit before it became clear that we had a puncture. We stopped to change the wheel because there were still a lot of kilometres left on the stage. It’s really strange because it didn’t feel like we had hit anything at all. As I’m not competing in the championship, I can’t be too frustrated by the situation, but I would have liked to keep fighting for the lead all the same. Having said that, I’m pleased with my rhythm and my speed throughout the day. We’ll try to keep doing the same thing tomorrow and just enjoy ourselves in the car.”

Saturday morning then and with 169km and four stages again, the Tour de Corse was definitely showing its character.

It was Kris who drove a stormer through here and won the stage by seventeen seconds from Andreas, with Seb only third, a further three tenths adrift. There was a change for third place with Jari-Matti dropping behind Andreas having been eight seconds slower than Andreas. Kris was now up to eighth place overall.

Stage six next. Seb and Andreas set identical times through this one! Kris was out though after he miss heard a note from Paul and showing that these stages can bite! He didn’t go far off the road, but with trees lining the road, it was enough to damage the right front of the car. A real shame really. His teammate Craig was doing really well, now in fifth place overall and just like in Finland, showing his qualities!

Stage seven then and once more it was Seb fastest from Andreas who was consolidating his third place on the overall leaderboard, now 28 seconds ahead of Jari-Matti. Thierry was looking good for second place, but was now 59 seconds behind Seb.

So, the last stage of the day and Thierry won it with Dani and Craig second and third, so great to have a different top three with just six seconds covering them at the end of the 30km stage.

01 Ogier (VW) 3h 27m 10.0s

02 Neuville +46.5s

03 Mikkelsen (VW) +1m 08.0s

04 Latvala (VW) +1m 41.3s

05 Breen +2m 04.6s

06 Paddon +2m 42.7s

07 Sordo +3m 03.9s

08 Camilli +4m 18.2s

09 Østberg +5m 10.5s

10 Tänak +6m 00.2s

The thoughts then of the top three:

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1: “I did not want to take too many chances today, as the risk of suffering a puncture is quite high on these long stages. Given the lead we had, Julien and I could afford to lose a few seconds to the opposition. However, that does not mean that we were slow. Our priority was to drive a clean line. The rain made things even more exciting in the afternoon, but the combination of four hard and two soft Michelin tyres was definitely the correct choice. Right now, it looks as though Julien and I have a very good chance of finishing on the top step of the podium at our home rally. However, the 53-kilometre stage tomorrow morning demands full concentration – one mistake can shake everything up again.”

Thierry Neuville said: “We’ve had another good day and I was really happy with our performance in all stages. We started this morning taking more care with the brakes after our experience from yesterday, and we were able to maintain good speed. The New Generation i20 WRC has been working well and we’ve had a positive feeling. The weather conditions this afternoon put a focus on tyre selection, as we expected conditions to be slippery. In the final stage, we had a soft tyre at the rear, which was a good choice. I went wide at the beginning and hit a stone. There was some vibration but that went away, thankfully, and we could continue to take the stage win. The fight has been close with Andreas, but I hope we can keep our hold on second tomorrow. We have a monster stage to start off, and that will be the key to our result this weekend.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9: “I had a good feel for the car this morning, and went on the attack a bit. We fought our way into third place and made up some good time on Thierry Neuville, who is ahead of us in second place. We then lost a little ground in the afternoon, as we found it tough to match the opposition’s pace, particularly on a drying route. All in all, we are happy and are obviously hoping for a podium finish tomorrow. However, we have far from given up on second place. It will definitely be interesting again tomorrow, as the longest stage of the rally is still to come.”

The rest of the drivers:

Volkswagen Motorsport:

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2: “I never really had a good feel for the brakes today, and was not really happy with my times. Unfortunately, this meant I was unable to attack as I had hoped. Instead, I just had to do what I could. We tried out a slightly softer set-up towards the end, which worked well. All in all, fourth place is a good result, although not what I had hoped for. However, we will not give up in the battle for the podium.”

Hyundai Motorsport:

Hayden Paddon said: “I’m not going to hide away from the fact that it’s not been the best of days for us. Our times in the morning loop were not so good. We used the long regroup and service at lunchtime to understand where we could improve. It’s not been easy to put our finger on the reason why we’ve been struggling. We’ve tried a variety of things inside the car to get more speed. The weather played its part in the afternoon. As we’re not in the battle up front, we decided to cross over tyres in the final stage. That changed the balance of the car but we have to try these things. We’ve made it safely to the end of the day, so we will now look closely into all the data and see what we can do in the final two stages on Sunday.”

Dani Sordo said: “We wanted to put the puncture from yesterday behind us and quickly get back into the competitive rhythm. The morning went OK. We were out of the mix, so we tried a different suspension, which made the car a bit softer. The car felt good and the times helped us to move up a few positions. The final stage was difficult in places. We had chosen all hard tyres, so I was pleased we could finish second. We are not too far off the top-six, but we have a very long stage to start on Sunday. That will be important to get right if we are to pick up a good collection of Championship points this weekend.”

M-Sport WRT:

Éric Camilli (8th) said: “Like yesterday, it’s been another very good day for us. We proved that we can have some speed on Tarmac and that was very encouraging because it is never easy here in Corsica – and especially for us as we are experiencing the stages for the first time in a world rally car.

“I was really happy with my pace this morning with some very positive splits. And to be honest, I was quite happy with my pace this afternoon too but we were a little unlucky on the road. We got caught in the worst of the rain and lost almost 50 seconds in 10 kilometres!

“But that’s the way it is and our objective was not to fight for position this weekend. We want to make it through all of the stages, to learn, and to push when we feel comfortable. So far, that is what we have done and I hope it continues tomorrow.”

Mads Østberg (9th) said: “We’ve manged to get through the day without any big problems and when everything was working well I could focus on our strategy. This new style goes against my natural way of driving. It’s not so comfortable at the moment, but it’s positive that we are trying something different.

“I knew before the rally that we would lose time here, but we need to do it. We need to do this training in competition, and hopefully we will see a benefit in the future.”

Elfyn Evans (10th / 1st WRC 2) said:

“It’s been a pretty good day. We had a clean run with no problems and managed to build on our advantage from last night which was our objective for the day.

“We got caught in the worst of the rain this afternoon so that didn’t help us in the overall standings. When the conditions are like that, you really have to concentrate on your driving technique and that seemed to work pretty well for us, but we lost out to those who were running in the dry further up the road.

“Overall, and in terms of the WRC 2 championship, the day has been good.”

Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT:

Craig Breen: “Once again, I’m very pleased how today’s leg went. The only really frustrating part of the day was at the end of SS7, when I got caught in the rain. Starting quite far back in the running order counted against me, because the rain just got heavier and heavier. I felt better after setting the third fastest time on the next stage and overall, it’s been a positive day. I don’t think I could ask for much more, really. I can feel that my confidence is growing as we get through more stages. I’ll try to finish the job tomorrow. Jari-Matti isn’t too far ahead, but I won’t be trying to go after him. I would be delighted to finish in the top five.”

Kris Meeke: “I had good pace on today’s first stage and set a very good time at the end. On the next test, I listened to the pace notes as we took the first proper corner… but they weren’t correct. During recce, I hadn’t noticed just how much the corner tightened. We hit a tree and that put an end to our day. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. On the ‘Rally of 10,000 Corners’, you need 10,000 correct pace notes and we didn’t have them on this occasion! In any event, I’m pleased to have had a good rhythm at this rally and I can’t wait to come back to Corsica next year. In the meantime, we’ll contest the last two stages tomorrow to get the experience.”

Sunday then and two stages to go. Kris had a rebuilt car and boy did he go for it! He motored through stage nine a full 35 seconds faster, setting an average speed of 97kph to beat Hayden and Jari-Matti into second and third.

So, the last stage and once more, it was Kris quickest again, getting great experience and knowledge for next year. He won the stage by only half a second from Andreas with Seb a further second off.

So that was that, just ten stages, but definitely one of the longer rallies on the world stage. Seb won from Thierry and Andreas was third. Stand out drive for me was Craig. He’d never driven a WRC car on these stages, yet finished in fifth place.

The final standings then:

01 Ogier (VW) 4h 07m 17.0s

02 Neuville +46.4s

03 Mikkelsen (VW) +1m 10.0s

04 Latvala (VW) +1m 35.6s

05 Breen +2m 18.6s

06 Paddon +2m 36.1s

07 Sordo +3m 06.9s

08 Camilli +4m 53.9s

09 Østberg +5m 37.7s

10 Tänak +6m 26.6s

Here’s the interviews with the top three then:

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1: “What we really wanted this weekend was to get the win at our home rally. It is the first time that Julien and I have won a WRC event on Corsica and it feels fantastic. It’s a real classic. We had a strong start on Friday and were able to manage the lead on Saturday and Sunday. It went perfectly. I couldn’t be happier. The chances of being able to celebrate the championship title here were only really theoretical, but now we have a real possibility of clinching it in Spain. We are so close to getting our fourth star. It’s fantastic and naturally we will turn all of our attention to that now. We want to take the momentum from Corsica with us. But we won’t be driving tactically at all, we want to fight for the win there, too.”

Thierry Neuville said: “It has been a very positive and competitive weekend. We have made no mistakes in some tricky but enjoyable stages; it was pretty much the perfect event, really. Everyone in the team has done a good job, and I’m happy with what we have achieved. The New Generation i20 WRC has had great pace, as we have seen from some of the stage times. We were able to build a gap over Andreas on Saturday so we just had to stay focused on our driving in the final stages to bring the car home. Working with my new engineer, we have made continuous improvements to the car so I’m satisfied with the weekend. We’ve built some excellent momentum since Sardinia so I hope we can continue in this direction as we look ahead to Spain.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2: “Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get any points from the Power Stage because I was a little bit too cautious in places. Overall we aren’t overly happy with our performance – but I only have myself to blame. In terms of set-up, we went in a direction that didn’t work. Now we are looking to the future, since we want to do much better at the Rally Spain and finish on the podium again there at least. Last year we were involved in a thrilling battle for second place with our team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen, which we want to win this time.”

The thoughts of the rest of the drivers:

Hyundai Motorsport:

Dani Sordo said: “A really frustrating weekend for us after the puncture on Friday afternoon. That ended any chance we had of finishing on the podium. We have shown on occasions what would have been possible without that two-minute time loss. We’ve had some encouraging stages as well as some difficult ones, but we have to put this down to experience and move on. The next rally is my home event in Spain so I’ll come back fighting!”

Hayden Paddon said: “We had a much stronger finish to the rally after a tough two days. It’s been a case of going back to the basics to try and find a way forward. Looking at the results from this morning’s two stages, I’d say that we’ve made a step in the right direction. Second place on the long opening stage was much more like where we want to be. That gives us confidence as we prepare for Spain.”

Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT:

Craig Breen: “This week has been pretty intense and tough, but we’re obviously delighted to finish in the top five at the Tour de Corse. Everything went really well and we have got a bit more experience under out belt, both in a World Rally Car and at what is undoubtedly the most difficult tarmac rally. Fifth overall is very much in line with the target we had set ourselves before the start. And we’ve also improved with every kilometre and set some really good times. I’d like to thank everyone who has made it possible for me to compete here and who have supported me throughout this rally!”

Kris Meeke: “For me, it was very important to get back to top form this morning. I had to get back the confidence in my pace notes, after the mistake we made in recce had led to yesterday’s incident. It’s a timely reminder that this part of the race is important. The rally doesn’t start on Friday, it starts on Monday, when we have to describe every corner during the two runs on each stage at low speed. It’s a good lesson for us and one we’ll take on board for the future. This morning, I was pleased with my time on SS9 and I’m also happy to have won the Power Stage, even though the points are rather meaningless as I’m not competing in the championship. I’m looking forward to coming back to the Tour de Corse, to try and fight for the win.”

M-Sport WRT:

Éric Camilli (8th) said: “I’m really happy with this weekend. Our target was to complete all of the stages without mistakes and we did that. When we felt comfortable, we could push a bit more and when we did that it was good to see that we had some really competitive split times. That was a big confidence boost and we know that we are going in the right direction – we just need the experience.”

Mads Østberg (9th) said: “This rally has been really good practice for me. We’ve been trying a new strategy this weekend – changing our style to improve our driving on asphalt. Before the rally we knew that it would not be easy and that we would lose a lot of time, but it is definitely a positive to be trying something different.

“I haven’t set any blinding times, but we have to be patient. I feel that we progressed throughout the weekend and by the last stage I felt that we had some really good settings. The plan now will be to take everything we have learnt this weekend and continue the progress in Spain.”

D-Mack:

Ott Tänak, DMACK World Rally Team driver, said: “It was a difficult weekend and we weren’t able to push for a higher result but it was important to complete all the stages and get the experience for next season. These roads are very specialised and now at least we have more knowledge for 2017.”

So, after win number 40 for the Polo WRC, Seb now holds a 68 point advantage over Andreas in the championship. It’s a question of when, rather than if Seb wins his fourth title. Just three rounds remain this year now.

Drivers’ Championship:

1. Sébastien Ogier, 195 points

2. Andreas Mikkelsen, 127

3. Thierry Neuville, 112

4. Hayden Paddon, 102

5. Jari-Matti Latvala, 101

6. Dani Sordo, 92

7. Mads Østberg, 80

8. Kris Meeke, 54

9. Ott Tänak, 52

10. Craig Breen, 35

Manufacturers’ Championship:

1. Volkswagen Motorsport, 293 points

2. Hyundai Motorsport, 227

3. Volkswagen Motorsport II, 136

4. M-Sport, 132

5. Hyundai Motorsport N, 106

6. DMACK, 66

7. Jipocar Czech National Team, 18

8. Yazeed Racing, 4

Join me soon for all the details.

Warren Nel, WRC editor

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