Tour de Corse – Ford preview
- 9th October 2007, 9:03am
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."
* BP-Ford will have two tread patterns to choose from. BFGoodrich's g-Force Profiler is available in soft, medium and hard compounds for dry asphalt while the Profiler H pattern for wet roads is available in a medium / soft compound. If the rain is heavy, engineers will carve additional cuts into the H pattern. The grooves can be either longitudinal to combat aquaplaning or lateral for extra braking and traction.
* The team spent four days testing in Corsica in the middle of September in preparation for the event. Grönholm drove for the first two days before Hirvonen took over for the final two days. All the driving was based on the eastern side of the island near Bastia.
* Abu Dhabi driver Khalid Al Qassimi and Nicky Beech's next and final event of the 2007 WRC season in a Focus RS will be Rally Ireland on 15 - 18 November.
Although the rally is again based in Ajaccio and held over stages on the west of the island, organisers have introduced major changes for 2007 to increase the difficulty and pressure. Much of the opening two legs are new, with one of Saturday's tests reappearing for the first time since 1996. Almost 60 per cent of the stages are new or have not been used in this format for four years. The first two legs will also contain two identical loops of three tests rather than the traditional two. Sunday's final leg will be identical to last year. The route also heads further south than in previous years, reaching down to Sartène. The three legs are all of similar distance and drivers face 16 stages covering 359.32km in a route of 1117.20km.
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