Tour of Corsica
Luck can often contribute to rallying success as well as skill, reliability and tenacity. Fortunately it does not enter the lists all that often and winners are generally thoroughly deserving of their victories. The rallies in which luck can play greatest part are usually those with an element of adventure, such as the Safari, in which other competitors are not one's only adversaries, but it can often crop up in more clinical events in which everything is clear-cut special stage conformity.
The Tour of Corsica, which the French consider to be their only contribution to the World Championship since the Monte-Carlo Rally is really Monegasque, is a fast, all-tarmac event spanning some 48 hours, with very tight road sections and special stages on exceptionally twisty, undulating roads, most of them barely wider than a car. What is more, the overhanging undergrowth can often produce "tunnel" conditions, and the roads can be patched with loose gravel, leaves, puddles or even mud.
For these reasons many drivers consider the rally to have a high luck element. The misplacement, for instance, by a mere inch or two of one of the stone road-edge markers can cause disaster for a car committed to a fast, tight cornering line. Indeed, the road-race style of the event may be popular with the French, but it hardly gets a poll among visitors from other countries, many of whom went there this year not by personal choice but simply because it is their profession to drive wherever they are told to drive.
You should not infer from this that the Tour of Corsica is anything but tough. The constant pressure for long competitive distances on tortuous roads produces a high degree of fatigue, whilst service time is so short that even the slightest little problem can result in penalties or even running out of time altogether. What is more, corners are so numerous that a set of pace notes is a voluminous work indeed and reading them back during the rally, with no straight stretches now and again to provide a vocal break, demands continuous concentration of co-drivers.
Entrants in this Corsican mountain race, which the organisers try to run as closely as possible to a hybrid of the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio, were really more in keeping with a dirt road event rather than a tarmac one, for some of the teams were by no means equipped with the best machinery for rallying on tarmac. However, the surfaces were far from smooth and the abrasive nature of some of those mountain roads, plus the length of the stages, contributed to high tyre wear and punctures. Slicks, with racing compounds, provided good grip but their longevity under heavy wear was often insufficient. Punctures were common and even the winner, in his search for the best compromise between grip and wear, switched from Michelin to Pirelli, and then to Kleber for the whole of the second leg.
Datsun was there with three cars and Toyota with two, but even though their construction had been with tarmac in mind neither the Violet nor the Celica could really be called an ideal tarmac car. Nevertheless Wilsons finished third and fifth, and a Toyota sixth, which says much for the ability of Tony Pond, Terry Kaby and Per Eklund respectively.
The Renault team came with just one R5 Turbo, but there were several others in the field, some private and some entered by dealers. Most of them fell foul of cracks in a new type of exhaust manifold being tried for the first time, and which succumbed to vibration, but Ragnotti's works car looked all set to make up the time loss of an early trip off the road and challenge Darniche for the lead when a battery lead broke in an inaccessible place and all the electrics went dead.
Andruet's Ferrari 308 GTB was the car which took the initial lead, but petrol pump failure eventually stopped it, perhaps for the same reason at that which stopped Salonen's Datsun. His fuel filters became blocked with silt, and this could have come from contaminated petrol picked up by mechanics at some filling station. Pond had the same trouble, and since his tank was very likely silted at the bottom he had to fill it to the brim at every opportunity to lessen the chances of the pump sucking up dirt and clogging the filters.
There was a good cluster of well driven Porsche 911s in the rally, plus the 924 GTS of Jacques Almeras, the competition tuner from the South of France, which stopped with a turbocharger fault. The best of these was that driven by Jean-Luc Therier, but when he collected two rear wheel punctures which put his vital rear suspension seriously at risk, he lost so much time that he was unable to continue.
The continuing use of 911s by dealers and private entrants can't really be to the factory's liking, for they have been pushing sales of the 924 and are expected to return eventually to the sport with that car.
Henri Toivonen's Talbot Sunbeam Lotus went out early in the first leg when a steering ball joint nut fell off, nearly sending the car over the edge of a substantial drop, but the sister car from Coventry, driven by Guy Frequelin, went on to take a fine second place despite a succession of gearbox and rear axle changes, some of which may have been mythological confidence boosters rather than mechanical necessities.
Of the two works Audi Quattros, that of Michele Mouton seemed to have a slight edge of power over Hannu Mikkola's, for the French girl was making better times generally than the Finn. However, the comparison could not be continued for both cars retired with engine failures caused by silly little faults which should never really have happened.
To lessen the vibration of a rather long fanbelt, Audi engineers had fitted two small tensioning pulleys, and on Mouton's car one of these fell off and fouled the toothed belt driving the camshafts, with obvious and disastrous results.
On Mikkola's car there was an almost imperceptible surface blemish on the rubber membrane vital to the turbocharger waste gate. This turned out to be a scratch, and it caused the membrane to be less than 100% efficient, the turbocharger to overfeed the engine and eventually four of the five pistons failed.
Waldegard's Toyota Cellica expired in a cloud of hot oil smoke when both its ditterennal oil seals failed and the differential itself seized soon afterwards. The other car, driven by Per Eklund, now recovered from his rather nasty accident in the Portuguese Rally, carried on, but very nearly went out on the last stage but one when a rear hub broke up. Mechanics ran into the stage with a spare and in some 25 minutes the car was on its way again.
Winners Darniche and Mahe had made their customary cautious start, slowly increasing the pace and staying in the leading group to move into first place when less reliable cars around them were dropping back or out altogether. Their Lancia Stratos was one of those owned and run by Andre Chardonnet, the French importer who steadfastly refuses to retire the car whilst it still has winning potential, and whose successful activities — within France, of course — be rather embarassing for the Fiat Group which has long ceased all competition with the Stratos.
It is the desperate wish of the French, and indeed of French-orientated FISA, to have the Tour of Corsica elevated to the position of a major event in the World Championship, but its international popularity will never match that of other events in the series, nor its atmosphere, for precious little is done to assist and smooth the passage of non-French-speaking competitors.
Next round of the World Championship the Acropolis Rally in Greece during the first week of June. - G.P.