The third round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge season begins on Thursday afternoon on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. The rally will be the first ever running of the renowned Tour de Corse as part of the series.
Alternatively known as the Rally of 10,000 Corners, the 2011 edition will feature a selection of stages from across a wider area of the island than in recent years.
Thursday afternoon sees two runs over the Le Fangu-Notre Dame de la Serra stage, which at 27.53 km is the longest of the event. Friday's action sees three stages, each repeated, around the area of Corte. The final day on Saturday consists of three more repeated stages around Ajaccio.
With Juho Hanninen, the winner of the previous round in the Canaries and the points leader after two rounds absent from Corsica, Skoda Motorsport teammate Jan Kopecky will hope to end a run of almost 13 months without an IRC victory to his name. A former points scorer when Corsica hosted the French round of the World Rally Championship, the Czech driver will hope to go one better than his runner-up spot in the Canaries.
Another Skoda driver hoping for victory will be BFO Skoda driver Fredy Loix, looking for his first win of 2011. Also in the Fabia ranks is Skoda UK pilot Andreas Mikkelsen. The Norwegian took part in a regional event on the island in March and will hope to put that experience to good use.
Fellow Scandinavian Patrik Sandell makes his IRC debut in a Skoda Sweden entered Fabia, Corsica being the start of a seven-event programme for the former junior world champion. Toni Gardemeister will hope to take advantage of his experience in Corsica in his second event with his own Skoda Fabia, after finishing 10th in the Canaries.
Bryan Bouffier will hope to repeat his victory on Rally Monte Carlo with a win on another of the IRC's classic events – one that would also see the Peugeot France driver return to the top of the standings. Despite his nationality though, the Frenchman has never competed in Corsica before.
Guy Wilks will be aiming for a top result for Peugeot UK, while fellow Kronos-prepared entrant Thierry Neuville will look to build upon the impressive podium finish he scored in the Canaries for Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg. Bruno Magalhaes will want a solid result for Peugeot Sport Portugal, while local driver Pierre Campana makes his Super 2000 debut in a 207 after winning the IRC 2WD Cup in Monte Carlo.
Another entry to look out for will be the debut of the new R4-specification Subaru Impreza, with Toshi Arai behind the wheel, which is expected to be much closer to its Super 2000 rivals than its N4 predecessor was.
Eurosport will again provide comprehensive television coverage of the rally, broadcasting six of the stages live.