Legend of 10.000 corners: Tour de Corse IRC preview

Corsican event is undoubtedly one of the few rallies still capable of bringing back memories of the past times and the glorious battles that took place on it’s stages in past decades. Some of the most famous moments in the history of rally took place on extremely demanding tarmac stages lining the island, and this week legend continues with another edition of this charismatic event.

Even though Tour de Corse is no longer part of the World Rally Championship – instead French round takes place in Sebastien Loeb’s backyard – it is still spectacular and this year’s edition promises to build up on that with the help of live TV stages and host of WRC and IRC stars gracing it’s entry list.

One could even say, Tour de Corse is doing superbly fine being part of well organized, well covered and star studded Intercontinental Rally Challenge, as opposed to World Rally Championship, deprived of teams and media coverage.

Full official preview follows.

The all-action Intercontinental Rally Challenge returns to Corsica next week for the 55 th running of Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse, an event steeped in tradition and testing in the extreme. Back on the IRC schedule following its spectacular inaugural appearance in 2011, the rally will be televised live on Eurosport when it takes place from 9-12 May on demanding stages around the picturesque Mediterranean island.

Four stages of the famous rally will be broadcast on Eurosport as they happen, with both runs of Erbajolo-Pont d’Altiani on Friday 11 May and the first and third passes of Marinca-Cagnano on Saturday 12 May covered live on Eurosport and Eurosport Player. Corsican satellite channel Via Stella will cover the penultimate stage live.

The action will be shown in High Definition and viewers watching around the world will be treated to a real time comparison of how the drivers are performing on a section of a stage through the use of SimulCam technology.

Affectionately known as the Rally of 10,000 Corners due to the proliferation of twists and turns on challenging mountain roads, the event starts in Ajaccio in the south west of the island on the afternoon of Thursday 10 May. Crews tackle three stages prior to the overnight halt in Calvi on the northwest coast.

Friday’s action consists of five stages based around Corte – four single-use tests plus Erbajolo-Pont d’Altiani, which will be used twice with both runs shown live on Eurosport. Competitors will service in Corte during the day before heading to Bastia in the northeast for overnight parc fermé.

The rally concludes on Saturday 12 May with two stages north of Bastia each run three times as part of a major revamp of the route for 2012. Eurosport will be transmitting live when the 28.96-kilometre Marinca-Cagnano stage brings the rally to a close on Saturday evening ahead of the ceremonial finish in Bastia at 20:00hrs local time.

KEY FEATURES

The first Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse took place in 1956 and it wasn’t long before the event became one of the world’s most iconic, albeit challenging rallies. It developed a fearsome reputation as drivers negotiated narrow mountain roads in high-powered cars, lined with unforgiving rock faces on one side of the road or steep drops on the other.

It was also an extreme test of endurance with the route covering significant parts of the island in a 25- hour stretch. In more recent times organisers settled for a compact and sedate route based around Ajaccio. However, for the event’s IRC debut in 2011, a new route was plotted to take in more of the island to recreate the spirit of adventure once very much in evidence. But with most of Corsica’s undulating roads undergoing resurfacing over the years, much of the broken and bumpy asphalt that was once synonymous with the rally has been eradicated.

While hot and sunny weather is expected for the duration of the event, the island’s climate can be changeable, particularly in mountainous areas. This can make tyre choice a lottery in the event of rainfall during a stage.

FIVE FACTS

  • Thierry Neuville, who scored a standout victory for Peugeot in 2011, wasn’t the first Belgian winner in Corsica. In fact, Gilberte Thirion, the maiden victor in 1956, was also from Belgium.
  • Didier Auriol and Bernard Darniche can lay claim to being six-time winners of the event. Rallying legend Colin McRae clinched back-to-back victories in 1997 and 1998 driving for Subaru.
  • Petter Solberg is running his own team on this year’s event. He also took part as a driver on several occasions, finishing first in 2003 despite crashing heavily in pre-event shakedown.
  • François Delecour triumphed on the rally in 1993. He returns to the event for the first time since 2002 in a Renault Mégane RS.
  • With a competitive distance of 318.23 kilometres, Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corsica is the longest round of the 2012 IRC season so far.

THE BATTLE FOR VICTORY

With all six Intercontinental Rally Challenge manufacturers represented, 21 headlining Super 2000 cars in contention for IRC points and drivers from 17 different countries taking part, the battle for victory in Corsica will be electric.

Peugeot triumphed on the IRC’s inaugural visit to the island last season with Thierry Neuville taking a landmark victory in his 207 S2000. Although Neuville won’t be in action next week, Peugeot’s line-up is formidable with French aces Mathieu Arzeno and Bryan Bouffier, Ireland’s Craig Breen and Corsican Pierre Campana all set to impress for the make, which is also the supplier of official vehicles to the rally organisers.

ŠKODA arrives in Corsica on the back of three successive IRC wins in Açores, Canary Islands and Northern Ireland and will be a firm contender for victory. Defending IRC champion, the Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen, factory pilot Jan Kopecký – the runaway leader of the Czech championship – emerging German talents Hermann Gassner Jr and Sepp Wiegand, local driver Jean-François Succi and Skydive Dubai Rally Team’s Rashi Al Ketbi will be reliant on Fabia S2000s as they bid for success. M-Sport’s feet of Ford Fiesta S2000s are also capable of running at the front. Oleksii Tamrazov and Oleksandr Saliuk are ones to watch for Dream Team Ukraine, while Frenchman Julien Maurin scored IRC points in Corsica in 2011. Patrik Flodin had been due to drive a Fiesta for new entrant Petter Solberg Engineering but a collarbone injury has forced him to withdraw. Marty McCormack, who won the Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy on the previous round in Northern Ireland following his success in the IRC 2WD Cup will deputise on what will be his first rally in an S2000 car.Italian Giandomenico Basso, a four-time IRC event winner, makes his first start of the year in a Regional Rally Car-specification Fiesta. Rather than using a normally-aspirated engine like the bulk of the S2000 machines in action, Basso’s car is turbocharged and benefits from other modifications.

World Rally Championship driver Dani Sordo will also be competing in Corsica in a MINI Countryman. However, because MINI is not a registered IRC manufacturer, the Spaniard won’t be eligible for points.

IRC Production Cup

The battle for honours will be just as close in the IRC Production Cup where Subaru’s trio of factorysupported drivers – Andreas Aigner, Toshi Arai and Jarkko Nikara – will be gunning for glory in their R4- specification Impreza WRX STIs. Romania’s Marco Tempestini will be at the wheel of an Impreza R4 and is vastly experienced. François Delecour also has plenty of knowledge to call upon. The legendary Frenchman will pilot a works-supported Renault Mégane RS with Manu Guigou competing in a sister entry. IRC Production Cup leader, France’s Robert Consani, will also be in action in a Mégane as he looks to hit back from his retirement on the Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally last month.

IRC 2WD Cup

Local hero Pierre-Antoine Guglielmi will be bidding for successive wins in Corsica in the IRC 2WD Cup. However, the Renault Clio driver will face strong opposition from a host of rivals including fellow Renault drivers Michael Kogler from Austria and Guy Fiori from France, Britain’s former IRC 2WD Cup champion Harry Hunt and Hungary’s Menya Krózser, who heads Honda’s bid for success in his Civic Type R.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: BRYAN BOUFFIER

French ace is back bidding for IRC glory in a Peugeot 207 Super 2000

Welcome back to the IRC Bryan, what’s your target for next week’s rally? “I hope to be in the lead of the rally, that is my target. I did the rally for the first time last year, it was fantastic with beautiful stages. I have a good car from Delta Rally, a good co-driver and a good motivation to push. It won’t be easy because the level is very high in the IRC but I will do my best.”

It’s been a few months now since your last IRC appearance. Will that affect your performance in Corsica? “For sure I have not done the IRC since Açores but I had a good performance on Rallye Lyon Charbonnières, a round of the French championship, and that was important because it means I have been driving recently.”

The rally has a reputation for being very difficult. Do you agree? “It’s a very difficult race because you have a difference of wide and smooth and narrow and bumpy stages where the rhythm is changing. This can make the set-up difficult but with Peugeot we have a good set-up from last year, it’s just a question of finding the right one for the conditions.”

What are the secrets to being quick in Corsica? “You have to be careful and not take so many cuts in the corners because it’s easy to get a puncture like I did last year and lose a lot of time. You need a high concentration but you have to remember even though the rally is long it is a sprint and the difference between the drivers won’t be much.”Being French how important would winning this rally be to you and your career? “For a sportsman each race is important but Corsica is, perhaps, much more important than the other because it is in my country and winning would be very satisfying.”

EVENT ESSENTIALS Event: Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse, Intercontinental Rally Challenge, round four of 13 Starts: Ajaccio, 13:00hrs, Thursday 10 May Finishes: Bastia, 19:40hrs, Saturday 12 May Headquarters: Ajaccio 9-10 May, Calvi 10 May, Bastia 10-12 May Service parks: Ajaccio 8-10 May, Calvi 10-11 May, Corte 11 May, Macinaggio 11-12 May Facts and figures: Entries received: 48; IRC appearances: One (2011); Stages: 14; Stage distance: 318.23 kilometres; Liaison: 755.98 kilometres; Total: 1074.21 kilometres

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