Tour of Corsica

After the rain and mud of the Safari came a sharp contrast in Corsica where the narrow, tortuous mountain roads are all on tarmac, and winning margins are usually just a few seconds rather than the minutes and even hours of Kenya. However, in mid-May fine weather cannot be guaranteed in the Mediterranean, and the roads can vary from dry and very abrasive to wet, slippery and sometimes strewn with leaves, stones and a film of mud brought down from higher ground.

This year the weather was mostly fine, but there was a little rain here and there, so that some four or five stages were wet. That number of stages in a total of thirty may not seem significant in the distribution of advantage between two-wheeldrive and four-wheel-drive, but it did make a difference. BMWs have been successful in a dry Corsica in past years, but this year that handful of damp stages was enough to put victory out of reach of Francois Chatriot who could only manage third place in his M3.

The real duel was between Lancia and Toyota. The Italian team had two Martini backed Delta Integrales driven by Frenchmen Didier Auriol and Yves Loubet, and there was a third such car in Fina colours for Bruno Saby. Toyota had two Celica GT4s driven by Carlos Sainz and Armin Schwarz. Prominent among the Group N cars were the Renault 5 GT Turbos of Jean Ragnotti, Alain Oreille, Sylvain Polo and Claude Balesi, and it says much for their performance that three of them finished in the first ten overall. The only one of the quartet not to finish was Jean Ragnotti whose engine failed.

The contest for the Ladies Cup of the World Rally Championship has been marked this year by the rivalry between Louise Aitken-Walker from Scotland, driving an Opel Kadett GSi for GM Euro Sport, and Paola de Martini from Italy in an Audi 90 Quattro. French girl Christine Driano was also driving in Corsica and was expected to provide strong competition for the others, but it was the Scottish girl who emerged fastest, opening up a substantial lead over the others. Alas, this good performance eventually came to nothing when her engine shed its camshaft drive belt, leaving the Italian girl to win the ladies’ category, in 9th place overall.

In the early stages Loubet was in the running, but first a puncture and then a broken half-shaft delayed him considerably. Later, he went off the road whilst avoiding an oncoming truck on a road section, not a special stage. Toyota also lost one of its cars when Schwarz stopped after his gearbox casing broke.

An incident similar to Loubet’s, but this time actually on a special stage, unnerved Spanish driver Sainz, whose performance was affected quite markedly for the rest of that day, and not without good reason.

The leading duellists were Sainz and Auriol, but when Sainz suddenly saw a car being driven towards him on a special stage he had a considerable scare and for the rest of the day he wondered whether there would be any more such incidents. This had happened on a long straight (he was in fifth gear!) and he was able to see the car in time to take appropriate action, but he could not help wondering what might have happened had it been on a twisty section when he was about to enter a corner, concentrating on the notes and totally committed to a line!

Sainz eventually recovered his composure, but by that time Auriol had made good use of his rival’s unfortunate experience and kept up the pressure to extend his lead and keep it to the finish, where he led Sainz by just 36 seconds. Auriol has led the World Rally Championship since he won the Monte-Carlo Rally in January, but behind him things have now changed. Sainz has moved up from fourth to second place, just 15 points behind, whilst Biasion and Kankkunen, neither of whom were in Corsica, have each dropped a place to third and fourth respectively. Next round of the series is Greece’s Acropolis Rally in June.