62nd Tour de Corse (28-31 March) – Preview
The first rally to be contested on clean tarmac this season, round four of the 2019 WRC is also Citroën Total World Rally Team’s home event. Hopes are therefore high for the French outfit’s crews, Sébastien Ogier – Julien Ingrassia and Esapekka Lappi – Janne Ferm, especially as the major changes made to the route may well suit them.
Having won last year’s rally after leading from start to finish, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia spearhead the challenge of the Citroën Total World Rally Team on the Mediterranean island this season with the firm intention of claiming a third win in four races, following victories in Monte-Carlo and Mexico. The French crew, who also won the 2016 Tour de Corse on a route that had already undergone substantial changes, have shown in the past their ability to take good pace notes on the two runs allowed in recce, before then really going for it on the increasingly wide roads used on the island rally. Sunday’s leg in Monte-Carlo, contested on dry tarmac, equally confirmed that they were full of confidence when driving the C3 WRC on this surface.
Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm also stood out at the 2017 Tour de Corse, finishing as top performers with four stage wins (one tied), including the Power Stage, as the battle among the championship contenders for bonus points raged around them. They were even in contention for third place before a puncture put paid to their challenge on the penultimate stage. So the young Finnish driver comes into this round with genuine hopes of a strong result on a surface where he feels particularly at home, having competed in karting races between the ages of six and sixteen.
Long-time leader in 2017 and winner of three stages during last year’s rally, the C3 WRC has always been very competitive at this round, where its celebrated predecessors (Xsara Kit-Car, Xsara WRC and C4 WRC) have won the event a total of six times in the past. The new Citroën crews each had two days of testing in the car on the Corsican roads last week to review and fine-tune the set-up options.
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
“Obviously, the French round of the WRC is a special event for us and in front of our home crowd, we’re determined to finish on the podium for the fourth time in as many races. Nevertheless, we know just how unforgiving these roads can be, especially as this year’s itinerary focuses on endurance. And at this time of year, the weather can also be fairly unpredictable. In any case, Sébastien and Esapekka have both shown undeniable speed on these types of road, as has the C3 WRC, and preparations in Corsica last week mean that we come into the rally in good shape.”
Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total WRT driver
“The route has been changed quite a lot again this year, but that has already happened before here, which has meant that I have often had to get to grips with new stages and that tends to suit me. It adds a bit of stress and adrenaline to the race, and it can lead to there being bigger gaps than usual. When the stages are new for everyone, obviously the difference comes from who does a very good job during recce and then has sufficient confidence in their pace notes to push right from the word go. We also know about the qualities of the C3 WRC on tarmac. Our pre-event testing was really productive and the feeling was good in the car. Clearly, I’m also very keen to do well at our home round of the WRC and keep our good run of form going.”
Number of appearances at the event: 5
Number of wins: 2 (2016 and 2018)
Esapekka Lappi, Citroën Total WRT driver
“I have always really enjoyed this rally and I can’t wait to get started. I love driving on clean tarmac like here or in Catalonia. The challenge will be to take good pace notes from the word go. I think pace notes are even more important on asphalt than on gravel in order to get the line right and to know what speed you can carry through corners. With the revised itinerary, we’ll all be in the same boat as regards familiarity with the stages. Although it won’t be easy, it’s an opportunity for us, since we generally have a bit less knowledge of the roads on the other rallies. In any case, our tests went well and I feel confident. I hope I can be at least as competitive as last year.”
Number of appearances at the event: 3
Best result: 6th (2018)
14 timed stages covering a total of 347.51 km
133.34 :the number of kilometres this year where crews will need to take new pace notes
47.18 km for Castigniccia, the weekend’s longest stage, held twice on Saturday’s leg
6 overall wins secured by Citroën at the Tour de Corse in the WRC: 1 with Xsara Kit-Car (1999), 3 with Xsara WRC (2001, 2005 and 2006), 2 with C4 WRC (2007 and 2008)
2: for the second year running, Citroën France is the lead official partner of the Tour de Corse.
TOUR DE CORSE SCHEDULE
(GMT+1 until 30/03, GMT+2 from 31/03)
With the opening leg taking the crews from Porto-Vecchio to Propriano, then heading north on day two towards Castagniccia, Cap Corse and the Désert des Agriates, before finishing next to Calvi, this year’s edition of the classic island rally remains faithful to the recently-restored tradition of touring the whole of Corsica.
In addition to the various regions covered, the 2019 Tour de Corse has plenty of other ingredients to make it a serious test. The total competitive distance is now close to 350km (compared with 333.48km in 2018), Friday’s leg only has a tyre-fitting zone at the midway point, Saturday features some 174.50km with two runs on the 47.18km-long and especially demanding Castagniccia stage, all rounded off with a longer Power Stage (19.34km) than usual, set against the magnificent backdrop of the Fango valley.
The other major difficulty stems from the fact that more than 62% of the itinerary has been revamped. Of the fourteen stages, only three – Valinco (SS2/SS5, 25.94km), last contested in 2015 , Cap Corse (SS7/SS10, 25.62km) and Désert des Agriates (SS8/SS11,14.45km), both contested last year – are familiar to the current crop of world championship crews. This makes it all the more important for them to get to grips with and take good paces notes on the 133.34 new kilometres in just two passes during recce at a limited maximum speed (80kph). Recce looks set to be every more crucial than usual and will call for unremitting concentration throughout.
THURSDAY 28 MARCH
9.00am: Shakedown (Sorbo Ocagnano)
FRIDAY 29 MARCH
7.00am: Start Day 1 (Porto-Vecchio)
7.05am: Tyre fitting zone (Porto-Vecchio – 15 mins)
8.29am: SS 1 – Bavella 1 (17,60 km)
9.24am: SS 2 – Valinco 1 (25,94 km)
10.32am: SS 3 – Alta-Rocca 1 (17,37 km)
12.41pm: Tyre fitting zone (Porto-Vecchio – 15 mins)
2.05pm: SS 4 – Bavella 2 (17,60 km)
3.00pm: SS 5 – Valinco 2 (25,94 km)
4.08pm: SS 6 – Alta-Rocca 2 (17,37 km)
7.38pm: Flexi service A (Bastia airport– 45 mins)
SATURDAY 30 MARCH
6.05am: Start Day 2 & service B (Bastia airport – 15 mins)
7.38am: SS 7 – Cap Corse 1 (25,62 km)
9.08am: SS 8 – Désert des Agriates 1 (14,45 km)
10.14am: SS 9 – Castagniccia 1 (47,18 km)
12.32pm: Service C (Bastia airport – 40 mins)
2.38pm: SS 10 – Cap Corse 2 (25,62 km)
4.08pm: SS 11 – Désert des Agriates 2 (14,45 km)
5.14pm: SS 12 – Castagniccia 2 (47,18 km)
6.34pm: Flexi service D (Bastia airport – 45 mins)
8.24pm: Parc ferme (Place Saint Nicolas – Bastia)
SUNDAY 31 MARCH
7.30am: Parc ferme out (Place Saint Nicolas – Bastia)
8.10am: Service E (Bastia airport – 15 mins)
9.45am: SS 13 – Eaux de Zilia (31,85 km)
12.18pm: SS 14 – Calvi Power Stage (19,34 km)
1.18pm: Finish (Citadelle de Calvi)
3.00pm: Podium (Citadelle de Calvi)