Rallye de France, the eleventh of 13 World Rally Championship events in 2010, moves from its long-time base on the island of Corsica to the Alsace region in northeast France, where all crews tackle its mix of sealed roads for the first time.

The last asphalt WRC event of 2010 gets underway with a ceremonial start in the city of Strasbourg on Thursday 30 September and finishes on Sunday 3 October with a special stage on the streets of Haguenau, hometown of six-time world champion Sébastien Loeb.

The rally’s opening day includes narrow, bumpy sections blended with blisteringly fast, wide roads where speeds could top 200 km/h. On the second day drivers face a maze of vineyard roads on flat, open plains before the third day’s mix of street roads and fast tracks through a military camp.

All eyes will be on Loeb as the local hero tries to wrap up his seventh world title as well as his 60th WRC victory.

“It’s one hell of a lot of pressure. Given my success rate on this kind of surface, everybody’s expecting me to stroll home to an easy victory,” the six-time world champion admits. “But this rally won’t be any easier than the others. Quite the opposite in fact, as it’s a completely new event consisting of quick roads, which include most of the difficulties we normally meet on asphalt. This season, there are six drivers who are all capable of winning, so the overall level of the championship is very high and there’s no way victory for me in this event is a foregone conclusion.”

Loeb has won five events so far this season to net 201 points in the drivers’ championship. The only drivers who are in a position to catch him are Sébastien Ogier (158 points) and Jari-Matti Latvala (132 points). With three rallies left – France, Spain and Great Britain – Loeb has to win at least one of the three to bag his seventh title. “The ideal would be to clinch it as soon as possible. Obviously, winning my sixtieth victory and my seventh world title at home would be the fulfilment of a dream,” Loeb says.

The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team hasn’t given up hope of a strong finish to their 2010 season. Both the team’s drivers tested their Ford Focus WRC cars near Strasbourg before the rally started, with Mikko Hirvonen saying: “It was all about finding a set-up for the kind of roads we expect to find on the rally. The test roads were narrow and bumpy and the surface changed frequently. We looked at developing a compromise set-up that we believe will work well on the different types of stages we expect to face. I’m feeling confident after a good performance on the last round in Japan.”

Latvala lies third in the championship and the 25-year-old Finn hopes to maintain his progress on asphalt after finishing fourth in the last sealed-surface round in Germany last month. “It wasn’t my best result on that surface because I finished third in Ireland in 2007, but I feel I have moved up a level on the last two asphalt rallies. It gives me a lot of confidence ahead of this rally.”

Latvala adds: “We must write pace notes from a blank sheet because we’ve not driven the roads before, so it’s vital we concentrate hard in the recce. My first impressions were that this would be like Rallye Deutschland. But our engineers have looked at the stages and it seems the roads are more similar to those of the Monte Carlo Rally, especially the first leg.”

Having won in Portugal and Japan so far this year, second-placed Ogier intends to use the event to demonstrate his capabilities on asphalt. “With a new rally like this we start on an equal footing with everyone else in terms of experience,” he says. “That was the case in Bulgaria earlier this year as well, where we managed to set some good stage times. We need to make sure that we do a good job during the recce so that we are right on the pace from the very first run through the stages.”

Among the 70 crews is another local hero: the 2008 World Touring Car Champion and current leader of the series, Yvan Muller, who is competing in a Citroën Xsara run by the Petter Solberg World Rally Team and co-driven by Gilles Mondésir.

Pirelli provides two tyre specifications for WRC teams. The standard PZero asphalt tyre will be available primarily in hard compound, but with a limited amount of soft compound rubber for use in cold or wet weather. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber in the event of rain or mud and each car can carry two spares.

Three other Focus RS WRCs are entered. Matthew Wilson with co-driver Scott Martin are nominated in the Stobart M-Sport Ford team and are joined in the points-scoring line-up for the first time by Monster World Rally Team’s Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino. Argentines Federico Villagra and Diego Curletto drive for the Munchi's Ford team.

Rallye de France also includes all three support championships – JWRC, SWRC and PWRC – as well as the Pirelli Star Drivers, a five drive line-up which features the New Zealand pairing of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard. It is also round six of the Fiesta SportTrophy and five Fiesta R2 cars are entered.

Organisers say, inevitably, this new event can’t build the history of its predecessor overnight, but what it can and will bring is previously unchartered levels of popularity to a rally which is pretty much in the centre of Europe. Strasbourg is a short drive from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Belgium.

2010 FIA WRC Championship for Drivers (prior to Rally France)

1, Sébastien Loeb, 201pts
2, Sébastien Ogier, 158pts
3, Jari-Matti Latvala, 132pts
4, Petter Solberg, 118pts
5, Dani Sordo, 107pts
6, Mikko Hirvonen, 94pts

2010 FIA Production World Rally Championship for Drivers (prior to Rally France)
1, Patrik Flodin (SWE) Subaru, 90 pts
2, Armindo Araújo (PRT) Mitsubishi, 83 pts
3, Hayden Paddon (NZL) Mitsubishi, 76 pts
4, Gianluca Linari (ITA) Subaru, 41 pts
5, Toshi Arai (JPN) Subaru, 38 pts

Get full, exclusive access for only $6.55/month.
  • Full access
  • Exclusive news
  • Store & Tour discounts

Show Your Support


Recent Posts