The new look World Rally Championship travels to France for the second time in 2017, as the new WRC cars are given the ultimate Tarmac test on the Che Guevara Tour de Corse.
Set on picturesque Mediterranean Island of Corsica, the rally of 10,000 corners will give the new WRC cars their first proper debut on tarmac.
While Rallye Monte Carlo was technically the first tarmac event of the year, here on the sun drenched mountain roads littering the island, there isn’t one patch of snow or ice.
But the danger here isn’t snow and ice, its bumpy, abrasive tarmac with constant sharp twists and turns with big drops waiting to catch out the unwary.
Ogier Looks to Make it a French Double
Despite these risks, championship leader Sébastien Ogier is looking to extend his championship leader by claiming both victories in his native France.
Ogier won last year’s Tour de Corse and won the season’s only other tarmac rally in Monte Carlo.
His win on the Monte has given his confidence in the M-Sport Fiesta WRC on tarmac and Ogier hopes to give the French fans cheer with another home victory.
However fellow previous Corsica winner Thierry Neuville is also joint favourite.
The Belgian and his Hyundai i20 WRC managed to notch up their first podium finish in Mexico and the relief to have finally got a result on the board will allow the Belgian to go all out in pursuit of victory.
The Belgian is a renowned tarmac expert and has been the fastest driver so far this season, so he’ll be looking to steal Ogier’s glory.
Neuville is partnered by fellow tarmac expert and Tour de Corse winner Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon.
Paddon’s preparations for the event included a run on the San Remo Rally where he finished second overall in a R5 spec i20.
The Kiwi has cut a frustrated figure so far this year, so he hopes that the outing in Italy will help him challenge for podium honours here.
“We did a warm-up on the San Remo Rally in order to adjust our speed, our pace-notes in order to try and improve our speed on tarmac.”
After taking their first victory of the season on the last round in Mexico, Citroen arrive at their second home rally.
For the first time this season, all three pilots of Kris Meeke, Craig Breen and Stéphane Lefebvre are all equipped with C3 WRCs and all will be looking to challenge for top honours.
Meeke lead last year’s event before dropping back, so hopes for a more sustained challenge this year.
Yet he and the Citroen team are hoping that they have cured the C3’s suspension woes that affected its performance on the similar, but smoother, terrain of the Monte.
If these issues continue then it’ll be more an achievement to keep the car on the road than in the podium places.
Toyota meanwhile are looking to pick up valuable experience but their Monte performance, where they finished second with 2015 Corsica winner Jari-Matti Latvala at the wheel, means that a top five result is not out of the question.
Mikkelsen returns to WRC2 while JWRC kicks off for 2017
In WRC2 a star studded contest is in the offering as both Skoda and M-Sport field their strongest line-up.
Andreas Mikkelsen makes his second appearance of the season for Skoda and the Czech manufacturer hopes for a repeat of his Monte Carlo performance, where he dominated the event.
Jan Kopecky will be his team-mate as Skoda seek to gain their seventh straight WRC2 victory.
Yet M-Sport’s Éric Camilli will hope to put up a strong fight on his local round.
Having just missed out on victory in Mexico, Camilli’s confidence will be on a high and, along with Kopecky, is likely to be Mikkelsen’s closest rival.
Competition is also expected from former Tour de Corse winner Bryan Bouffier in a Fiesta R5.
The Tour de Corse is also the first round of the new Junior World Rally Championship sponsored by DMACK.
Ten competitors will line-up in identical Ford Fiesta R2 machinery with bonus points being awarded for each fastest stage time.
Competitors include last year’s British Junior Rally Champion, Robert Duggan and Dennis Rådström, son of former Ford and Citroen works driver Thomas.
Former Ladies World Rally Champion Louise Cook is one of the entries in a strong WRC3 field.
Her Fiesta R2 will go up against a variety of local heroes including the winner of the Monte Carlo round, Raphael Astier in his Peugeot 208 R2.
The rally also sees the return of the RGT category for the second round of the series.
Former Corsica winner Francois Delecour will take on current Le Mans 24 Hour winner Romain Dumas in Fiat and Porsche machinery respectively.
Follow The Checkered Flag for all of the lastest developments across the weekend.