WRC Round 4 -2018 Corsica Linea – Tour de Corse Preview


Tour-de-Corse
Credit: Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

There’s something about World Rally Cars and the island of Corsica that just ‘works.’ Put it down to the stunning scenery, vertiginous drops, infamously corner-heavy stages or the sheer weight of rallying history infused into the very rocks of the island, but the World Rally Championship would be a far poorer place without its annual trip to the middle of the Med. It’s a location which just oozes rallying cool; a daunting rock, criss-crossed with famous stages with infamous names, not to mention the ever-present threat of very un-Med-like weather as and when the local gods of rain see fit, which can turn the Corsican tests into lethally slippy, concentration-sapping epics! It might be among the most picturesque stops on the FIA World Rally Championship tour, but the message is clear; underestimate the Linea Tour de Corse 2018 at your peril.

The Rally

It hasn’t even begun, and already the 2018 Tour de Corse has provided plenty to talk about, with a number of drivers pushing the ragged edge that bit too far and coming a cropper as a result – Guillaume De Mevieus, Takamoto Katsuta and Thierry Neuville all concluded their respective pre-event tests on the wrong side of the Armco. This year will see the crews tackle a smattering of classic Rally France highlights, though much of the route is totally different from this time last year, a legacy of its relocation to the town of Bastia. The 2018 Tour will visit iconic event set-pieces, including La Porta Chapel, the tip of the Cap Corse (the Northern tip of the island and an area not visited since 1995), before moving West on Sunday to take in many of the classic stages nestled around the rally’s traditional base, Ajaccio.

Weather and car setup go hand-in-hand on the France’s round of the World Rally Championship, the island’s location in the centre of the Mediterranean serving to make freak rain storms an ever present danger. When the heavens do open, Corsica’s already daunting stages become lethally difficult and the pock-marked tarmac turns to sheet-ice within minutes. The abrasive nature of the asphalt itself also has an impact on the cars and how they perform, with a high level of tyre degradation expected for the longer loops of stages – so watch out for plenty of shredded, decidedly second hand looking Michelins on Friday and Saturday in particular!

The Stages

Friday will see the WRC crews tackling a duo of stages new to many of them, with the 49km of La Porta to Valle di Rostino kicking things of in typically Corsican fashion, followed by a shorter run through the 13.5km of Piedigriggio to Pont de Castirla. Services at Bastia airport (the longest stretch of straight tarmac on the island) bookend repeat runs through the morning’s stages, giving a total competitive mileage of 125.16km.

Saturday, the longest day of the rally, sees the WRC regulars tackling a trio of stages twice; Cagano-Pino-Canari (35.6km), Desert de Agriates (15.4km) and Novella (17.3km), 136.9km of special stage miles in full.

The 2018 installment of the Tour de Corse will conclude with a pair of stages on the South Western side of the island, including Vero-Sarrola-Carcopino (a real monster at 55.1km) and the Power Stage – Penitencier de Coti-Chiavari (16.2km). The former isn’t merely an extended test by the standards of the modern WRC, it’s a long stage full stop – the longest on the Tour since 1986!

The Teams

Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT

Citroen will probably feel more confident in the lead up to the Tour de Corse than at any time in the last six months. The C3 WRC’s formative links to Citroen’s immensely successful World Touring Car programme have left it with the kind of sealed surface pace its rivals can only dream of, and Kris Meeke used it to good effect last year, winning with comparative ease in Spain and looking set to do the same on Corsica this time last year…until the engine let go. The C3 has become a far more dependable beast over the last 12 months though, so the Versailles-based team will head to its home round feeling both positive and expectant.

Sébastien Loeb features on the Citroen driver lineup for the second time this year, the 9 time WRC champ back on the surface on which he first cut his teeth. Loeb’s record on the Tour de Corse is every bit as mighty as you might expect, claiming overall honors four times on the trot between 2005 and 2008. He’ll be backed by Kris Meeke, himself no stranger to sealed surface success in Citroen Sport overalls, though never on the island of Corsica. Both will be seeking to score maximum points and both, barring unexpected mistakes and reliability dramas, will likely be in contention for the win. This raises the intriguing prospect of team orders, and whether or not the most successful driver in the sport’s history would be willing to heed them if asked to move aside for his de-facto team leader.

Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT

Hyundai’s 2017 season pretty much came to life this time last year, Thierry Neuville finally shaking the lapses in concentration which had blighted him in both Monte Carlo and Sweden to take a convincing win, albeit one aided by Meeke’s premature departure. A full year down the line, and if anything Neuville looks even more at one with the i20WRC, a car which many consider to be the most complete package overall and one able to win anywhere, providing it holds together of course. Neuville will be hoping for a repeat of last year then, though he’ll doubtless have to work hard to rebuff the efforts of his team mates Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen, the former coming to Corsica off the back of an especially competitive Rally Mexico.

M-Sport Ford WRT

M-Sport returns to the lineup with which is began the season in Monte Carlo, with Bryan Bouffier once again joining Sebastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans behind the wheel of a Fiesta WRC. While it’s true that the reigning champ has won two out of the three events so far in 2018, it’s hard to shake the feeling that his successes on the Monte and last time out in Mexico owed as much to his immense skill as the Fiesta’s innate competitiveness. An ability to wring hefty points hauls from so-so starting positions will almost certainly go down in history as Ogier’s signature style, and it has probably served to flatter the 2018 Fiesta to a degree, certainly when compared to the lackluster (albeit luckless) performance of his team mate.

Elfyn Evans comes to Corsica on the back foot, the Welshman forced to swap co-drivers as a result of his roll in Mexico last month. The good news is that he couldn’t be in better hands, Daniel Barritt’s seat having been taken by Phil Mills, 2003 World Rally Champion co-driver and a man with an immense amount of experience, both in the WRC and on the Tour de Corse. The best news is that Evans relishes Corsica and should, if fortune takes a break from chucking punctures his way, go well here. A repeat of his stunning 2ndplace here in 2015? It’d be foolish to rule it out.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Toyota’s performance thus far this season have been strangely subdued, and the result is that the lead Yaris driver currently lies in 5th. The man in question is Jari-Matt Latvala, the experienced Finn having struggled to replicate the form which saw him claim a sensational Swedish win last year, and in truth no Toyota driver has looked likely to trouble the top step of the podium so far in 2018. All 3 cars suffered from altitude inflicted engine issues last time out in Mexico, and while the team can rest assured that a similarly induced scenario is highly unlikely to occur in Corsica, it’s evidence that the Yaris is not yet the fully finished article. It’s precisely the kind of reliability drama that Toyota would have hoped to have fully solved by its sophomore season.

It’s fair to say that Toyota’s driver lineup is the weakest of the 4 manufacturers when it comes to tarmac running, but that doesn’t mean that Messrs Latvala, Tanak and Lappi can be discounted. The former actually won here back in his VW days, while Tanak’s sealed surface doubters were well and truly silenced by his comprehensive victory in Germany last year. Lappi’s form continues to climb and the young Finn put in an impressive performance on the Monte, Power Stage indiscretion aside. All three will doubtless be motivated by the knowledge that they’ve yet to kick-start their respective title pushes, so expect the kind of flat-out, fearlessly committed drives we’ve come to love and expect from the Yaris contingent.

WRC2

It’s a bumper entry of WRC2 entries for the Tour de Corse this year, though there is one, all too glaring omission, the Skoda Fabia ofPontus Tidemund. It will instead be left to Jan Kopecky and Christian Ole Veiby to uphold Skoda Motorsport honors, something they’ve both proved supremely adept at.

We’ve become used to the Skoda Fabias being dominant on most surfaces so far this year, but on Corsica they’re likely to face some of the sternest WRC2 opposition to date, both from the ever improving Mäkinen Racing Fiesta ofHiroki Arai (now tasked with leading the Makinen charge after the pre-event dramas of team mate, Takamoto Katsuta), and the all new Citroen C3 R5 pairing of Stéphane Lefebvre and Yoann Bonato.The French cars will likely be on the pace from the very beginning, helped by an extensive testing programme that’s seen both drivers been given ample time to familiarise themselves with the DS3’s long !!br0ken!!

Hyundai have i20 R5s for Nicolas Ciamin and Louis-Pierre Loubet, while Nil Solans will once again get to experience all-wheel drive rallying at the wheel of a Fiesta R5. It’s a compelling battle in prospect, and one which merely serves to underscore the high regard in which the Tour de Corse is held by rally drivers of all kinds and creeds.

WRC3

The Peugeot 208 R2 of Amaury Molle sticks out like a sore thumb in a field otherwise entirely comprised of Ford Fiesta R2Ts, and the Belgian will have to fight hard to topple the likes ofDenis Rådström and Emil Bergkvist, though his sealed surface roots should no doubt give him an edge.

WRC Entry List

1 – SébastienOgier – Ford Fiesta WRC
2 – Elfyn Evans – Ford Fiesta WRC
3 – Bryan Bouffier- Ford Fiesta WRC
4 – Andreas Mikkelsen – Hyundai i20 WRC
5 – Thierry Neuville – Hyundai i20 WRC
6 – Dani Sordo – Hyundai i20 WRC
7 – Jari-Matti Latvala – Toyota Yaris WRC
8 – Ott Tanak – Toyota Yaris WRC
9 – Esapekka Lappi – Toyota Yaris WRC
10 – Kris Meeke – Citroen C3 WRC
11 –Sébastien Loeb– Citroen C3 WRC

WRC2 Entry List

1 – Jan Kopecky – Skoda Fabia R5
2 – Christian Ole Veiby – Skoda Fabia R5
3 – Katsuta Takamoto – Ford Fiesta R5
4 – Hiroki Arai – Ford Fiesta R5
5 – Nil Solans – Ford Fiesta R5
6 – Stéphane Lefebvre – Citroen C3 R5
7 – Yoann Bonato – Citroen C3 R5
8 – Louis-Pierre Loubet – Hyundai i20 R5
9 – Nicolas Ciamin – Hyundai i20 R5
10 – Łukasz Pieniążek – Skoda Fabia R5
11 – Fabio Andolfi – Skoda Fabia R5

WRC3 Entry List

1 – Denis Rådström – Ford Fiesta R2T
2 – Armaury Molle – Peugeot 208 R2
3 – Emil Bergkvist – Ford Fiesta R2T
4 – Julia Tannert – Ford Fiesta R2T
5 – Jean-Baptiste Franceschi – Ford Fiesta R2T
6 – Terry Folb – Ford Fiesta R2T
7 – Callum Devine – Ford Fiesta R2T
8 – Emilio Fernandez – Ford Fiesta R2T
9 – Luca Bottarelli – Ford Fiesta R2T
10 – David Holder – Ford Fiesta R2T