Official review of Day 1: Mikkelsen heads close battle for Corsica IRC glory

Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Andreas Mikkelsen leads Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse following the opening three stages around Ajaccio this afternoon. However, with 2.8s covering the leading drivers, Mikkelsen has a big fight on his hands in his bid to win his first IRC event on asphalt and extend his title advantage.

Giandomenico Basso, a four-time IRC event winner, set the pace on Thursday’s opening stage in his MSport Ford Fiesta RRC, one of 21 Super 2000 cars in action on the picturesque Mediterranean island this week, with the uphill nature of the test better suited to his turbocharged machine. But the Italian, competing in Corsica for the first time, was unable to prevent Mikkelsen from snatching the lead when the ŠKODA UK Motorsport driver went fastest on stage two in his normally aspirated Fabia.

Neither driver could match the impressive speed of local hero Pierre Campana on stage three as the Corsican registered his first stage win in the IRC at the wheel of his Peugeot 207 S2000 to make up for the time he lost on stage two with two badly worn front tyres, the legacy of the twisty roads and the high ambient and ground temperatures. Campana trails MINI John Cooper Works S2000 driver Dani Sordo, who is making his IRC debut this week and is 2.8s off top spot.

“It’s been a perfect day for us,” said Mikkelsen. “Sordo is one of the best Tarmac rally drivers in the world and he’s been pushing hard, so I’m really happy with my performance today. I know the stages tomorrow a little better, so I’m glad to finish the first day so strongly. There is a long way still to go, but so far everything is going well.”

Basso, who reported that his car’s brakes and tyres were getting too hot on the demanding stages, reached the end of stage three 1.8s behind Mikkelsen, but is currently stopped on the liaison section heading to the overnight halt in Calvi due to a suspected mechanical failure. It’s unclear whether or not he will be able to resume his challenge for victory on day two. Sordo, meanwhile, said a bout of understeer and a slight lack of cornering precision had masked his true pace.

Behind Campana, Mathieu Arzeno is fifth overall in his Saintéloc Racing Peugeot and satisfied with his efforts on his Corsica debut. Jan Kopecký slipped behind French talent Arzeno on stage three after losing time striking a concrete slab in his factory Fabia, which the Czech said affected the car’s turn-in. Despite set-up changes following the opening stage, Bryan Bouffier has so far been unable to totally cure the understeer that has affected his Peugeot. Nevertheless, the Frenchman remains firmly in contention for a podium place in seventh overall, 27.6s down on leader Mikkelsen.

Julien Maurin is eighth in his Fiesta with Corsican Jean-Marc Mazagol ninth in a Peugeot. Rising star Sepp Wiegand is 10th overall for ŠKODA Auto Deutschland. Dream Team Ukraine’s OIeksandr Saliuk is 12th with Petter Solberg Engineering’s Marty McCormack impressing on his first run in a Super 2000 car in 13th position.

Craig Breen’s hopes of a maiden podium finish in the IRC suffered a setback when a front driveshaft failed on stage two, which he started in third overall following an impressive run through the opening test in his Saintéloc Peugeot. The Irishman is languishing in 24th after three stages, while punctures delayed Red Bull Team’s Hermann Gassner Jr and Skydive Dubai’s Rashid Al-Ketbi.

Andreas Aigner’s return to regular international competition has got off to a strong start with the Austrian topping the IRC Production Cup classification in his Stohl Racing Subaru Impreza R4 STI. Pierre- Antoine Guglielmi heads the IRC 2WD Cup runners in his Renault Clio R3. Emmanuel Guigou is the top Renault Mégane driver in 18th position. However, intercom problems have delayed rallying legend François Delecour in a similar car. The former Corsica winner is 25th starting day two.

Japanese Subaru driver Toshi Arai holds 20th overall with Tommi Mäkinen Racing team-mate Jarkko Nikara, from Finland, 22nd. Hungarian Menya Krózser completes the top 30 in his Honda Civic Type R. Friday’s route takes crews from the overnight halt in Calvi to Bastia with the bulk of the stages based around the town of Corte in the centre of the island. In total there will be five stages on day two over a competitive distance of 115.19 kilometres with the first run starting at 08:27hrs local time.

Live Eurosport action set to thrill, says Jean-Pierre Nicolas

Intercontinental Rally Challenge Manager and former Tour de Corse winner Jean-Pierre Nicolas says fans watching Eurosport’s live coverage of the two runs over the 24.27-kilometre Erbajolo-Pont d’Altiani test on Friday will be in for a treat.

“It’s a beautiful stage, great for live television because the images will be spectacular,” said Nicolas. “The second run is the final stage of the day but it certainly won’t be the deciding stage of the rally, because day three is also very tough.”

Erbajolo-Pont d’Altiani will be familiar to Eurosport viewers after it was included in the network’s live coverage from Corsica in 2011. It runs on smooth asphalt and is known for its high average speed of 95kph, flowing rhythm and spectacular scenery. The stage starts uphill but the finish is downhill, creating a significant challenge for the drivers – and dramatic footage for viewers.

UPDATE: Basso officially retired from the event due to damage to the car sustained in what is believed to be a road section accident.

Eurosport’s LIVE coverage of Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse (Friday 11 May): 11:00hrs-12:00hrs CET: SS5 Erbajolo-Pont d’Altiani 1 (Eurosport LIVE) 18:00hrs-19:00hrs CET: SS8 Erbajolo-Pont d’Altiani 2 (Eurosport LIVE)