A tour de force for Abu Dhabi Total WRT
A heavyweight challenge for the WRC crews
From Ajaccio to Porto-Vecchio, also taking in Bastia, the 2016 Tour de Corse (30 September – 2 October) 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, with 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, with a 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 400km!
In addition to these difficulties, another factor will be the weather, which is often unpredictable in early autumn. 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!
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.
After taking part in development testing of the new Citroën C3 WRC this week, the Abu Dhabi Total WRT crews will be back on tarmac this Sunday, 25 September. A test day will provide them with the opportunity to get their bearings before tackling recce.
Kris Meeke: "When I think about the Tour de Corse, it’s the terrible conditions in 2015 that spring to mind: the heavy downpours, the flooding, the shortened or cancelled stages... We were looking to score points for the Manufacturers’ championship and my fourth place helped us to achieve that goal. 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. On Friday morning, we start with a 50km stage (SS1), with no splits... So without overdoing it, we’ll have to find the right pace from the word go because otherwise you could lose a lot of time. Fortunately, Sunday’s test session will give us an opportunity to make adjustments before the rally. As far as my objectives here, it’s difficult to say. Obviously, 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: "I really love this rally. The narrow, bumpy roads at the Tour de Corse remind me of the ones you get 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. We’ll have to adapt to this rhythm, staying calm on the long road sections before invoking a bit of fighting spirit at the start of the stages! That aside, we know what to expect at this rally: weather that can make tyre choice difficult, managing wear on the brakes, the need to maintain concentration on narrow, twisty 50km-long stages... It’ll be difficult, starting with recce! 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!"
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