The French round of the 2018 World Rally Championship is based again in the spiritual home of tarmac rallying, the dramatic ever-twisting roads of the Island of Corsica.
The three day event has now settled into a more competitor-friendly format with the start, the overnight halts and the central service park in the northern town of Bastia and the finish down in the southerly town of Ajaccio.
Special feature this year is that Day 1 visits the far north tip of the island (Cap Corse) for the first time on a WRC event since 1995. 63% of the competitive route is different compared with last year.
There are two special challenges this year. The very first stage is almost the longest of the event (49km) and on the final day on this notoriously weather-fickle island the tyre choice must be made far away at Service, over five hours before the final stage, the Power Stage at the opposite end of the island, is run.
The first stage starts in the middle of the chestnut forests of the Castagniccia regions in the middle of the island passing immediatety by the remarkably imposing church at La Porta. Friday sees two loops of stages, Saturday two loops of three stages and Sunday just two stages.
The special challenge of the event is the skill in weather forecasting, with crews locating weather spotting crews at strategic places en route as well as weather crews warning competitors of recent hazard brought on the road in bad weather.
This may not influence which tyres will be carried by the cars when they leave service but will dictate which tyres will be actually fitted on the car before they tackle each stage.
There has been a clever layout of the event. Hard competition on the final day is assured because the final stage is only held once, therefore competitors not fighting for a top poition on the rally cannot use a first run as a high speed recce, and the length of the penultimate stage (55km) will prevent competitors easing their pace to preserve tyres for the final stage.
Furthermore the FIA has promised to implement new rules preventing artificial time control penalty manipulation tactics though the precise regulations are still unsure.
Nine times world rally champion Sebastien Loeb makes the second of his three planned entries on the WRC this year.
The 92 entries for the Corsica Linea Tour de Corse (WRC round, 6-8 April) are the highest number for a WRC event since Corsica 2015. This number includes 25 national category cars and no fewer than 37 two wheel drive cars.
There are 14 World Rally Cars (11 registered team cars and three privateers) and 14 entries in the Junior WRC, seventeen R5 cars including the new Citroen C3 R5 cars for Stephane Lefebvre and national champion Yoann Bonato. There are a record seven R-GT entries (three Porsche 997s and four Abarth 124 Rallys).
24 of the entered cars comply with National rather than FIA vehicle rules. Notable is that Citroen have again entered only two registered championship cars, for Meeke and Loeb, and nothing for Craig Breen. The third M-Sport car will again be driven by Bryan Bouffier and the third Hyundai this time is again for Sordo.
Team by TeamCitroen
Back again after a trouble free event in Mexico with only a two car team, both the ex-Sweden cars (Loeb’s being the ex-Breen car) used an uncompromising set-up for clear asphalt performance.
Team policy for 2018 is strictly two car WRC entries except when Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi will take part. Two days testing in Corsica for each driver. Stephen Whitford is again the “ouvreur” for Meeke, former Citroen team driver Patrick Magaud for Loeb.
Meteo France is entrusted with weather forecasting work. In the short period before Argentina, a five day test session is planned. This event sees the long awaited homologated rally debut for the C3 R5 car driven by Stephane Lefebvre and French champion Yoann Bonato.
Loeb has not competed in Corsica since 2008 but on the last four times he was here he won! Meeke has competed here five times over the last thirteen years and only once finished in the top ten (4th in 2015).
Two new cars for this event: Neuville has chassis 10 and Sordo chassis 11 while Mikkelsen has his ex-Mexico car. The team planned three days of testing the week before the event based in Corsica near Aleria but this was slightly shortened when Neuville spectacularly crashed on the final day with chassis 5 ending under a bridge in a river.
Unchanged line-up of weather note crews from Monte Carlo (Bernt Kollevold for Mikkelsen, Bruno Thiry for Neuville and Enrique Ojeda for Dani Sordo). Meteo France work with the team on weather forecasting together with a process of coordinating reports from the team’s own weather crews.
The team has only six days back at base in Alzenau before going to Argentina.
Strong results here in previous years for the drivers: Neuville won here in 2017 and in 2011 (with a Peugeot 207 S2000), Sordo (here on his tenth time) scored the most important outright championship rally win for a Mini JCW (S2000 version in a ERC event in 2012) while Mikkelsen won the WRC2 category last year.
No technical problems from Mexico but the team await a final medical check on codriver Daniel Barrett the weekend before the start. Stuart Loudon has meanwhile been engaged as Evans’ codriver in testing.
Progressively roads in Corsica are being resurfaced and required set-ups become increasingly like those in Spain.
A planned five day test in Corsica lost a half day because of team travel problems. Ogier two days, Evans 1.5 days and Bouffier one day. A new car for Ogier (chassis 10), Evans has #8 (Tanak Australia) and Bouffier #4 (Suninen Mexico). The anticipated new Focus RS recce car for Evans now due in Portugal.
“Ouvreurs” are Jean-Joseph for Ogier, father Gwyndaf for Elfyn and Jean-Marc Manzagol for Bouffier, weather forecasting carried out by the team and spotters on the route. A rally car was sent from Mexico to Ford Performance’s wind tunnel facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Only four previous rallies in Corsica for Ogier but a victory in 2016. Evans finished second in the bad weather rally in 2015 while Bouffier, who after seven entries is the team’s most experienced M-Sport driver in Corsica and won the ERC event in 2013.
Same three cars as used in Sweden. Main developments since the previous asphalt event (Monte Carlo) has been suspension work.
Investigations continue into overheating issues, Tanak’s turbo failure in Mexico, Latvala’s similarly unprecedented alternator failure. Six day pre-event test in Corsica with all three drivers involved, weather forecasting work carried out by their own personnel and weather crews on stages.
“Ouvreurs” will be Gardemeister for Latvala, Kangur for Tanak and Hanninen for Lappi. This will be the ninth time on this event for Latvala who won outright in 2015, won Group N in 2005 and FOUR times finished this event in fourth place!
Best result on Tanak’s three occasions was a sixth place while Lappi’s best place was second in WRC2 in 2015. Corsica was always personally an unlucky event for Team Director Tommi Makinen who in eight attempts never finished higher than sixth.
NOTE no special #4 rally plate has yet been supplied by the organisers.
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