Rising star wins revitalised rally, while crews take time to honour Toivonen
This year’s Tour de Corse, 25 years after Toivonen’s death, was significant in more ways than one. Not only did its inclusion in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge mark its return to the international calendar for the first time since its fall from the World Rally Championship roster in 2008, it also confirmed the emergence of a bright new star, the event winner Thierry Neuville.
In Corsica, the 22-year-old Belgian (above) more than lived up to the hype with a stunning maiden triumph, courtesy of fastest times on eight of the 14 stages in his Peugeot 207. Just as had been the case in the old days the rally took in stages that covered the whole island, making it a true ‘Tour of Corsica’ rather than the ‘Tour of Ajaccio’ it has been in recent years, with stages clustered around the capital due to the WRC’s central service park format.
One of this year’s stages, Taverna-Ponte di Castirla, ran extremely close to the place where Toivonen crashed (in fact it was part of the second half of the Corte-Taverna stage, run the opposite way to how it was in 1986). Exiting the stage, the road section took competitors past the memorial. During the recce, many drivers stopped to pay their own respects to Henri.
Corsica’s return was a huge success but there was one moment of concern: the 1981 World Champion Ari Vatanen required surgery on a neck injury suffered when the course-opening car he was sharing with son Max crashed down an embankment. The Finn will make a full recovery but the accident was a stark reminder of Corsica’s many perils.