Tour de Corse 2017 Preview

After the tarmac and ice of Monte Carlo, the snow in the forests of Sweden and last time out on the gravel roads, high in the mountains around Leon, Mexico, the fourth round of this year’s World Rally Championship comes to the Island of Corsica! Famously known for its twists and turns (apparently, it’s got 10,000 corners) we’ll get to see the new generation of faster world rally cars for the first time on a sealed surface. Okay, Monte is tarmac as well, but with the ice and snow there, it’s quite different!

2016 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 11, Rally de France, Tour de Corse 2016 / September 28 – October 02, 2016 // Worldwide Copyright: Hyundai Motorsport

This year, Tour de Corse features ten stages. Doesn’t sound much I hear you say? Well, what this event is about is quality. This year sees the crews attack 316.80km’s.

Just a reminder of the top ten last year, which saw Seb win for the first time on the streets of Corsica.

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

All of the teams have been testing on the island recently and are fully prepared for the challenges that will confront them.

So, lets from the crews ahead of the 60th running of this classic event.

M-Sport WRT

Sébastien Ogier said:

“We’ve had a nice few weeks since Rally Mexico – combining work with time at home – and now we’re ready to tackle the Tour de Corse. It was nice to spend some time with my family and to enjoy some skiing out on the slopes, but we also had a good test to find the best set-up for what are very unique stages in Corsica.

“We’re back to asphalt and I had a good feeling with the Fiesta in Monte-Carlo, but this event offers a completely different surface which demands a slightly different approach. Working with the team, we were able to explore a lot of different settings with the dampers and centre-differential which I hope will see us well placed to challenge for another strong result next week.

“We’ve seen some very close battles this year, and I expect that to continue. We’ll certainly be doing our best to be in the battle, and the ultimate goal will be to come out on top. It won’t be easy, but the Tour de Corse never is. Even if the route remains very similar to last year, this rally is always a big challenge!”

Ott Tänak said:

“Next week’s Tour de Corse will be the biggest test of the year so far, but we’ve done a lot to improve ourselves and await the challenge.

“It’s an event that I’ve not really clicked with in the past, but to be honest I had the same feeling about Rallye Monte-Carlo. That worked out really well for us so if we remain focused and motivated, anything is possible and we could find ourselves in contention for a positive result.

“That’s always our goal and we always want to deliver the best result we possibly can. The Fiesta felt really good in Monte and we’ve done a lot of work in testing since then. Last week we completed close to 500 test kilometres, so hopefully that all pays off next week.

“But at the same time, I know just how challenging this event is. The stages are so narrow and twisty and there is something happening all the time. There really is no margin for error and we’re going to have to remain calm and focused from the very start.”

D-Mack WRT

Elfyn Evans said:

“The Tour de Corse is a real technical challenge but I think that’s what I like about it. We’ve had some really good results there and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do this year.

“It’s a unique event and there’s actually quite a lot of variation amongst the stages. Some are surprisingly smooth, but then there are those which are typically Corsican with abrasive Tarmac that twists through the mountains.

“It’s all about adapting to the conditions but at this time of year, and with the stages being so long, it’s possible to be faced with dry Tarmac and wet Tarmac on the same stage. Like in Monte-Carlo, we could find ourselves looking for the package that provides the best compromise.

“When we had dry Tarmac in Monte, our pace was really good and that gives us a big positive to build on. We had a test working of different set-ups last week and it felt pretty good. It’s an event that you can never predict, but there’s no reason for us not to feel fairly optimistic so let’s see what happens.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Hayden Paddon said:

“I am determined that Corsica will be the real start of my 2017 season. I feel confident in myself and I’ve been working hard to prepare for the first WRC tarmac event of the year. Taking part in Rallye Sanremo will give me the chance to adjust to the driving and pace notes on that surface. Corsica is a difficult event, the toughest tarmac rally on the calendar in my opinion, but I am really looking forward to it. We are ready to put a good performance.”

Thierry Neuville commented:

“Tour de Corse is a famous and historic rally. It’s also an event that Nicolas and I have won back in 2011 – when it was part of the IRC – so we remember what it is like to go there and perform. I thought we did well there last year especially, finishing second. The stages were just lovely, so we are looking forward to getting back there. Mexico was a really important result for us after the competitive but frustrating first rounds of the season. We want to build on that podium – and Corsica is a great place to do just that.”

Dani Sordo said: “Corsica is our first experience of a proper tarmac rally this season, so I am excited to have the chance to show what both we and the car are capable of. The setting of the rally is one of the most spectacular on the calendar, with the route taking us through the mountains and the forests- it really is a great event to take part in. Our performances so far this year have been pretty consistent but now is the time to step up our game – and bring ourselves even closer to the front.”

Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT

Kris Meeke

“For sure, we won in Mexico, but the Tour de Corse is a completely different kettle of fish. For me, this rally is the ultimate challenge on tarmac. Last year, I really enjoyed the stages and I would’ve been in contention for the win had I not made a minor mistake. I can’t say that I come into the rally full of confidence, but I’m very pleased with the work done in testing. We have a good car, with consistent handling. In the rally itself, we’ll see if we are close to our full potential. I can’t wait to get started, I’m expecting it to be very close at the front.”

Number of appearances at the event: 4

Best result: 4th (2015)

Craig Breen

“I was surprised to learn that I’m the team’s most experienced driver at this rally! It’s true that I know the Tour de Corse very well and I really love racing here. There are some similarities with conditions in Ireland, like the unpredictable weather and the uneven surface of the roads, which are sometimes in poor condition… Last year, I had a good feeling on my first tarmac rally in a WRC. This year, I hope I’ll be able to put together a series of stages with a good level of confidence. It really is all about confidence with these new cars! If I can manage to do that, then we should secure a good result.”

Number of appearances at the event: 5

Best result: 4th (2013/ERC)

Stephane Lefebvre

“Like Monte-Carlo or Finland, the Tour de Corse is one of the WRC’s unmissable rounds. I don’t have particularly fond memories from my appearance here in 2015. It was hell on earth with all the rain! I therefore still see myself as a rookie and I know that my lack of experience may be difficult to overcome. But I’ll be giving it 100% to try and secure the best result possible. Testing helped me to fine tune my driving on tarmac. The C3 WRC handles a little bit like a track racing car.”

Number of appearances at the event: 2

Best result: 11th (2015)

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Jari-Matti Latvala said:

“Corsica is a special event for me: when I won there, it meant so much to me because for Finns it was always a difficult place, after the accident with Henri Toivonen in 1986, and as a nation we never used to do very well there. Now I think it is different, and of course rallying is a lot safer. We had a very good test completing 380 kilometres over two days, with one day on narrow and bumpy roads and the second day on fast and abrasive roads. On the rally, we will have both, so I think we found a good set-up between those two conditions, trying a few different damper settings. We already have an idea about the potential of the car on asphalt after Monte-Carlo, and my feeling with the car now is much better than it was after the test for Monte. However, our rivals will be very strong, as we saw already on all the rallies so far, so we take nothing for granted. We are just staying focused on our task of improving the car with every rally. Up to now, that objective is being met, so I am happy.”

Juho Hänninen said:

“I feel so much better now than I did before so I am looking forward to Corsica: it feels good to be back on Tarmac. I have only done the rally once before and that was a long time ago, although I also did the recce last year. So, I have been relying a lot on the advice from Jari-Matti about how to set up the car and this is working very well. To me, the car actually feels quite similar to what we had in Monte-Carlo, but that is good as I had a very nice feeling with the car there. The main difference in Corsica is the tyres, so we have been learning how to get the best out of them, especially for the long stages. Mexico showed that if you persist you can have a good result even if the circumstances are against you and that is also a little bit the philosophy of Toyota this year: we are going to keep trying to make the car better and better.”

So, these are the stages that await the crews. The itinerary is 96% identical to last year’s event, which was held in October.

TOUR DE CORSE SCHEDULE (GMT+2)

THURSDAY 6 APRIL

8.00am: shakedown (Sorbo Ocagnano)

FRIDAY 7 APRIL

8.15am: Start (Ajaccio – Parking Miot)

8.50am: Tyre fitting zone (Porticcio)

9.22am: SS1 – Pietrosella – Albitreccia 1 (31.20km)

11.14am: SS2 – Plage du Liamone – Sarrola-Carpocino 1 (29.12km)

12.24pm: Regroup (Porticcio)

1.39pm: Tyre fitting zone (Porticcio)

2.11pm: SS3 – Pietrosella – Albitreccia 2 (31.20km)

4.03pm: SS4 – Plage du Liamone – Sarrola-Carpocino 2 (29.12km)

7.15pm: Neutralisation (Place Saint-Nicolas – Bastia)

8.30pm: Flexi Service A (Bastia airport – 45 mins)

SATURDAY 8 APRIL

7.30am: Service B (Bastia airport – 15 mins)

8.40am: SS5 – La Porta – Valle di Rostino 1 (48.71km)

10.17am: SS6 – Novella 1 (17.27km)

1.03pm: Service C (Bastia airport – 30 mins)

2.28pm: SS7 – La Porta – Valle di Rostino 2 (48.71km)

4.08pm: SS8 – Novella 2 (17.27km)

5.48pm: Neutralisation (Place Saint-Nicolas – Bastia)

6.58pm: Flexi Service D (Bastia airport – 45 mins)

SUNDAY 9 APRIL

7.15am: Service E (Bastia airport – 15 mins)

8.58am: SS9 – Antisanti – Poggio di Nazza (53.78km)

12.18pm: SS10 – Porto-Vecchio – Palombaggia (10.42km)

1.30pm: Podium (Porto-Vecchio Marina)

17:30: Parc Ferme (Bastia)

I’d say that Friday is the most challenging day, as there is no midday service, just a tyre fitting stop. It would be very easy to make a mistake and cost yourself a lot of time or even retirement from the event and then any hope of scoring points.

With the pace that Thierry has shown on asphalt, I’d say he should be the one to watch for the victory, but we know how strong Seb is, and he won this rally last year. M-Sport are also very capable of building a quick car for this surface. Witness Elfyn and Dan leading this rally two years ago, and getting their best result with second place behind Jari-Matti in the end.

Speaking of him, he’s had his best start to a season for a while and has really come into his own at the new Toyota team. If the car is up to it, then I can see him getting a podium.

Hayden Paddon and Seb Marshall drove Rallye Sanremo last weekend in their first event together and scored a very positive second place behind the wheel of an i20 R5 car. Tarmac is a surface that Hayden has been working hard to get the pace right.

During Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle’s part season last year, they performed well at this event, but a puncture during one of the stages put paid to his fight for the lead. He subsequently had an accident, which put him out of the points. He set some quick times though, getting some great experience for this year.

Any driver could be on the podium, so let’s enjoy the event and see what happens!

Warren Nel, WRC editor

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