From Ajaccio to Porto-Vecchio, also taking in Bastia, the 2016 Tour de Corse promises to be a heavyweight challenge for the WRC crews. At its first appearance at a full tarmac rally this season, the Abu Dhabi Total WRT has entered two crews – Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle and Craig Breen/Scott Martin. First and third respectively in Finland, they will now be looking to show what they can do on the island’s narrow, twisty roads.
Since its return to the World Rally Championship calendar last season, the Tour de Corse has adopted an unusual format.
The route that reflects the name of the event
On Friday, 30 September, the crews will set off from Ajaccio for the opening day, contested with no service period – just a mid-leg tyre change – on the western side of the island. They will reach Bastia in the evening, before tackling stages in Haute-Corse the following day. On Sunday, the third and final day will take the competitors to Porto-Vecchio, where the rally is scheduled to finish after only ten stages. Like last year, the organisers have again favoured the use of long stages; except for the Power Stage, all the timed sectors are between 30 and 50km in length, making a total of almost 400 km!
The weather at the Tour de Corse is often unpredictable
When the clouds settle over the island’s mountains, conditions can deteriorate very suddenly, but not necessarily evenly across all the stages! Tyre choice can therefore become something of a nightmare, with crews opting for combinations of hard and soft compound Michelin tyres, as well as the full-wet tyres for heavy downpours!
Whereas conditions like these may discourage many an experienced motorist, they tend to captivate racing drivers, starting with those of the Abu Dhabi Total WRT. Fourth in the 2015 Tour de Corse in the DS 3 WRC, Kris Meeke also competed here in 2005 and 2006 in a Citroën C2 Super 1600. Although this will be his first tarmac rally of the year, expectations are high for the Northern Irishman after wins in Portugal and Finland on his last two outings!
Kris Meeke: “When I think about Tour de Corse, it’s the terrible conditions in 2015 that spring to mind. Heavy downpours, flooding, shortened or cancelled stages… This year, I hope the conditions are kinder. This rally is absolutely fantastic when the roads are completely dry! In any event, I’m expecting it to be a tough weekend to manage. We’ll have to find the right pace from the word go. Otherwise you could lose a lot of time. As far as my objectives here, it’s difficult to say. I won in Portugal and Finland, but I’ve always been quick on those surfaces. In Corsica, I think I would need to step up to another level. The target remains to rack up as many miles as possible to keep improving and be ready for 2017. I would be very happy to finish on the podium, but that’s not the goal in itself.”
Craig Breen has good experience on the Corsican roads
After competing here in each of the last four years (IRC in 2012, ERC in 2013 and 2014, and WRC2 in 2015), Craig Breen has amassed a good deal of experience on the Corsican roads. This year, he will be taking another step forward as he contests his first tarmac rally in a WRC. His ability to improve quickly – something that enabled him to finish on the podium at Rally Finland – will be a real asset as he aims for a positive result.
Craig Breen: “I really love this rally. The narrow, bumpy roads remind me of the ones in Ireland and perhaps that’s why I feel so at home here. The rally format is different to what we are used to in the WRC. There is the added endurance dimension, with the first day with no service and a lot of miles to cover. Weather that can make tyre choice difficult, managing wear on the brakes, the need to maintain concentration on narrow, twisty 50km-long stages… I don’t think that there is a better place for me to contest my first tarmac rally in a WRC. Although I’m starting almost from scratch, I know that the team will do everything it can to help me feel confident. It would be unrealistic to try and match the podium from Finland. I would be delighted with a top-six finish!”