New Zealanders Dave Holder and Jason Farmer have successfully completed their tarmac debut at the famed Tour de Corse rally, which concluded on Sunday (CET), achieving their primary goal of making it to the finish.
While their results in the Corsican FIA World Rally Championship event (5-8 April) – 14th of 14 crews in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship field, and 58th of 71 finishers overall – aren’t what they hoped for, the pair take much positive experience away from their first-ever rally on asphalt and their second-ever international event in their 2018 JWRC campaign.
Holder, from Mount Manganui and originally from Southland, says: “We successfully finished the Tour de Corse. It’s a pretty tough rally, and we got experience both good and bad across the event. We’re now much more prepared for the next tarmac event but unfortunately had to learn the hard way a couple of times. All in all, it was a positive event aside from the disappointing final result due to the time losses.”
Dubbed the Rally of 10,000 Corners, the Tour de Corse criss-crosses the French Mediterranean island of Corsica with twelve special stages using the island’s narrow, twisty tarmac roads through villages and along breath-taking cliffs and hillsides.
Piloting a Ford Fiesta R2 EcoBoost rally car, identical to the other 13 JWRC crews, the Kiwis started out strongly on Friday’s four-stage itinerary with Holder describing it as a pretty good day.
“Seventh in class by the end of the day, so we’re pretty happy with that for our first time on tarmac. We were about 20km into the 49km first stage when the stage was red-flagged due to an accident, which kind of worked in our favour as we got to finish 20km without worrying about stage times.
"Stage two went pretty well for us; starting to get more of a handle on when to brake. Following the lunchtime service, we repeated the first two stages. We spun on the very first corner of stage three, the repeated run of the 49km stage, so had to back it up, losing some time. Lost a wee bit of confidence through the middle section of the stage but finished quite well. We ended up catching another competitor and following him along for a while.
"It was quite interesting to do a bit of learning behind him, and how he drove the road and the lines, so it was actually quite good as he’s a tarmac specialist and we kept up with him. Finished the day with the repeated 13.5km stage, another nice, clean, consistent run for us. Learning about the car and how things handle on tarmac.”
Saturday bought a testing six-stage itinerary. Holder said:
“Day two was challenging, but ultimately a really positive day. Started off a wee bit slow on the first stage (SS5), getting some confidence in the notes. Then the second stage today (SS6), about two kilometres into it, still had cold tyres and lost the rear of the car on a slower corner.
"We spun and sent it off the road backwards into the bushes. We just got stuck, didn’t do any damage besides a scratch, but the marshal wouldn’t let us push the car out straightaway – we probably lost twice the amount of time we needed to. Thanks to some spectators we pushed it back into a paddock and could drive out. The positive is we got back on it for the rest of the day, consistently getting about eighth place on the stages and setting some good split times.
"The confidence is growing on tarmac. There’s still plenty to learn, but ultimately think we made some good progress today. Tomorrow we’ll build on that again, but it’s a shame now that we’re so far back in the results that it’s not easy to see that progress.”
There were just two stages on Sunday, the first one of the longest stages currently part of the WRC, a 55.17km monster.
Of Sunday, Holder said: “The 55km stage went okay for us; we tried a different driving style. It felt slow at the end of the stage and it was, so okay, we learn. But we were still ninth for the stage, so not the slowest.
"Then we had one final stage (SS12), which was going okay until mid-stage we had a 4-left in the middle of a village with a lot of gravel on it, which we’d noted and took a half car cut, like we were meant to, but unfortunately slipped wide on the gravel, hit the bank on entry into the next corner and it rolled onto the roof.
“We managed to roll it back over and finish the rally, so the main thing is that we got all the experience we could from the whole rally. We’re now looking forward to Portugal where we have all gravel and try to play to our strengths a bit more.”
Holder and Farmer, from Hamilton, are the first New Zealanders to contest the entry level WRC category. Their goal is to ensure their debut season of international competition allows them to step up a level in next year’s WRC.
Alongside learning to rally in Swedish snow and on hot Corsican tarmac, Holder is working hard to raise the budget needed for the M-Sport run arrive-and-drive category.
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