Didier's strong quartet

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If you wish to observe clearly the dissimilarity between two things which are quite different, the best way is to place them side by side so that their differences become more pronounced. Show a peach to an Eskimo and then show him an apple and he may think they are the same fruit, but show them to him together and he will realise that they are not.

The contrasting inherent characters of rallies brought about by differences in climate, terrain and so on are fundamental features which even FISA standardisation cannot touch, and when two vastly differing rallies are next to each other in the calendar their distinctive features show up very clearly indeed.

Just over a month after the murram tracks, the heat, the dust and the occasional storm of the 1992 Martini Safari Rally came an event of a totally different basic character, the all-tarmac Tour of Corsica. The former is the nearest thing to a total endurance rally that the World Championship has left, requiring at least some degree of inter-helistop reliability, whereas the latter is the closest thing to a road race remaining in the series.

Switching from the Kenyan bush to Mediterranean mountains demands considerable changes to cars, their engines as well as their suspensions and transmissions, but frantic reconfiguration during the intervening weeks is a thing of the past. Cars are built for specific events nowadays, and whilst one part of a team may be away competing in one event, another group will no doubt be engaged in testing and building the cars for the next event, or even the one after. There is constant overlapping of work schedules, and the fact that an event on snow may be followed by one on sand usually makes no difference to the preparation work load.

Nordic drivers are not known for their liking of the Tour of Corsica and it was not surprising that Juha Kankkunen was not there to drive one of Martini Racing’s Lancia Delta integrales, even though he and Carlos Sainz were sharing the lead of the World Rally Championship after the Safari. Three Lancias were nevertheless entered by Martini, for Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli, Philippe Bugalski/Denis Giraudet and Andrea Aghini/Sauro Farnocchi.

Not only were the cars’ suspensions totally dissimilar to those used in Kenya, where strength and a certain increased reliability are important and weight not quite as critical, but the engines were different too, having been fitted with reprogrammed engine management computers. Instant acceleration out of hairpins gains valuable seconds on the hairpin-ridden tarmac of Corsica, whereas in Kenya the tracks are comparatively straighter. Furthermore, the route in Corsica ventures nothing like as high as that of the Safari (almost to 10,000 ft) so aspiration systems do not have to cope with great altitude changes.

Speaking of the weight of the cars in Corsica, Lancia engineer Vittorio Roberti said that he had endeavoured to lose not only as many kilos as possible, but as many grammes!

Others in Lancias were Piero Liatti/Luciano Tedeschini and, driving a Group N version entered by Top Run Racing of Italy, Carlos Menem and Victor Zuchini from Argentina. Toyota Team Europe brought two cars from Cologne for Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya and Armin Schwarz/Arne Hertz. It was Schwarz who had undertaken most of the testing prior to the event, having been in the Corsican mountains during the whole time that the rest of the team was away in Kenya.

Like the Lancias, the cars had been lowered and lightened as much as possible, and both engines and transmissions were set up to give the best possible acceleration out of sharp corners. Toyotas do not seem to be popular among French privateers, for there was not one other car of that make in the event.

Ford was another team which had undertaken an extensive test programme prior to the rally, mostly in the alps of the French mainland. Two Sierra Cosworth 4x4s were sent for Francois Delecour/Daniel Grataloup and Massimo Biasion/Tiziano Siviero. Both cars displayed evidence of lightening and there was a new type of water cooling system for brakes and shock absorbers, particularly important on steep, twisty downgrades where both brakes and suspensions come in for heavy use.

Some of Corsica’s roads have been completely resurfaced and are smooth, whilst others are often broken and somewhat bumpy. Among Ford’s revisions to cope with both types of surface were slightly softer springs and slightly stiffer shock absorbers.

Further down the list, Group N Sierra Cosworths were driven by Fernando Capdevila/Alfredo Rodriguez from the Canary Islands, Kurt Gottlicher/Othmar Zwanzigleitner from Austria, Italian pair Giovanni Manfrinato/Claudio Condotta and local men Jean-Marie Santoni/Marcel Cesarini.

There was no entry from Renault Sport, but there were two Clio 16Ss which bore unmistakable signs of factory affiliations. These were entered by Team Diac and driven by Jean Ragnotti/Gilles Thimonier and Alain Oreille/ Jean-Marc Andrie. Both were Group A cars, as was a third driven by Claude Balesi/Jean-Paul Cirindisi.

Citroen’s Sport Network entered an AX GTI for Yves Loubet/Didier Breton and an AX Sport, a model no longer being made, for Christine Driano/Catherine Francois. The choice of cars was influenced by the rules of the French Championship, in which class results count as much as overall positions. Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prevot from Belgium drove a 16-valve Opel Calibra.

Driving BMW M3s were Patrick Bernardini/Roch Demerdardi, Jean-Claude Torre/Patrick de la Foata and Guy Fiori/Mario Bastelica, whilst Jean-Pierre Deriu/Joel Mariani were in a 325i.

In years past the two great local rivals in Corsica were Francois Serpaggi and Jean-Pierre Manzagol, one from Bastia and one from Ajaccio. They were competing again this year, the former in a Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4 and the latter in a Renault 5 GT Turbo.

The days when the headquarters and start/ finish location of the Tour of Corsica used to alternate each year between Ajaccio and Bastia are long gone. For some years the base has been established at Ajaccio, in a small conference centre at Campo Dell’Oro, near the beach on the outskirts of the town and close to the airport. The start/finish ramp, however, is always placed in the town centre.

The route was almost identical to that of last year and was divided by three night stops into four daytime legs. The first, on the Sunday, made a loop through four special stages before returning to Ajaccio in the afternoon. The second went northwards to Bastia via nine special stages and the third to Calvi, on the north-west coast, via seven more. The final day should have taken in seven special stages on the way back to Ajaccio but the final four were cancelled due to diversion of medical facilities to the scene of the football pitch tragedy at Bastia.

Road sections nowadays need not be taken flat-out, as they were in the past when the Tour of Corsica was almost a cross between the Mille Miglia and the Coupe des Aloes. There were ‘selectif’ sections as well as special stages, and sometimes the latter were included in the former, as they were quite often in the Alpine Rally. Indeed, the whole thing was a road race for which everything had to give way, and the furious pace meant that even stopping for fuel would bring the risk of a penalty. Today, it’s more leisurely between special stages, though the time available for service is not over plentiful.

Corsica has often been troubled by tension, sometimes the result of a sizeable chunk of the Corsican population agitating for independence from France. Indeed, the island’s strong military presence may be for this reason. Firearms are common, and it is not unusual, though sometimes disconcerting, to see groups of villagers walking around the mountains carrying rifles and wearing bandoliers. But Bugalski certainly did not expect a revolver to be thrust at him when he came out of a Porticcio restaurant late one evening during his recce. The keys of his Lancia practice car were demanded and off went the armed thief in the Turin car which, as this is written, has not been seen again. Another team to lose valuable equipment was Ford, some 60 or so wheels and tyres vanishing one night from a parked van.

In fine weather, Sainz led the field out of Ajaccio on the first day, but he was soon feeling somewhat unhappy when his Toyota’s handling on tarmac proved to be less than good. Indeed, both Cologne cars were seen to be sliding far more than those of their rivals as they struggled to find grip. It was felt that temperatures higher than those experienced last year could have something to do with this, and later in the rally Toyota arranged for more tyres to be sent in from Italy.

The initial lead was taken by Auriol on stage one, just one second ahead of Schwarz, Sainz and Delecour. During the four stages of that day, totalling just 40 miles, the Frenchman kept his lead, finishing back at Ajaccio with fellow countryman Delecour only two seconds behind in his Ford.

Manfrinato lost some 10 minutes when he rolled his Group N Sierra Cosworth, whilst Aghini hit a bank and was lucky to keep his fourth place. Menem went off the road on the third stage when his brakes failed.

During the day, Sainz had trouble selecting gears, so a priority job before entering the closed park at Ajaccio was a gearbox change. On the Monday, he expressed satisfaction that selection was smooth again. Indeed, on the second day Toyota performance seemed to improve generally, and Schwarz moved up to fourth place after Aghini spun. However, later in the day Schwarz became less than happy with his car’s handling and was passed by both Aghini and Sainz.

Liatti lost stage time and three minutes on the road after his turbocharger blew and had to be replaced. Capdevila was not so lucky. He also had turbocharger failure but had no time to have it changed, so he went into the next stage with no boost at all and promptly stopped.

Biasion was continually complaining about the handling of his Ford, although this was something which did not seem to affect Delecour at all. He just got on with the job of driving and did it extremely well. One wonders whether Ford may be regretting having signed Biasion, for his showing has not exactly been outstanding since he has been driving the Boreham cars, yet Delecour turns in excellent performances without seeming to complain — at least, not that we’ve heard.

The Col de Verde, where sudden weather changes can sometimes play fierce tricks, was clear and dry. It was here that Thiry had the differential break on his front-drive Calibra. Bernardini went out when he hit a bridge, almost wedging his BMW M3 between the stonework parapets. Ragnotti was then leading among the two-wheel drive contingent, his team-mate Oreille being badly out of practice – this was his first rally for about a year.

Among the Group N drivers, Fiori had his engine mountings break and Santoni took the category lead in his Sierra Cosworth and kept it to the end.

At the end of Tuesday’s first stage, a 15-miler near Cervione, Sainz complained bitterly that his tyres seemed to last only about five miles. But later the Toyota tyre situation improved and towards the end of the day the Spanish driver said that he was confident of being able to get ahead of Bugalski into fourth place during the last day. Bugalski was experiencing some back discomfort caused, he explained, by a seat which did not fit him properly and was allowing him to be thrown around on corners.

Up front, Auriol was holding his own against Delecour, but only just, and the Lancia driver knew that if he made the slightest mistake the Ford man could very easily jump ahead of him. Neither were taking undue risks, but both, on the other hand, were locked in a close fight for the lead. It was a tense situation; Auriol was after his fourth Corsican victory (he scored a hat-trick by winning in 1988, ’89 and ’90) whilst Delecour was keen to get the win which has eluded him so often, and to justify the faith that Ford has in him. Ironically. Auriol’s first victory in Corsica was at the wheel of a rear-drive Ford Sierra Cosworth.

Aghini collected a puncture when he clipped a rock and decided to continue on the flat. He got to the finish on what was left of the rim and was lucky that he then had enough time for a suspension change. However, he lost four minutes and dropped to seventh place, behind Biasion.

Fabien Doenlen, driving a 16-valve Peugeot 309 GTI for the local distributor, stopped when he hit a bridge, whilst Torre had a serious oil leak from his BMW M3 but managed to limp on. However, he was leaving oil on the road and when Fiori’s 325i came along it promptly hit a patch and slid straight off.

It was on that Tuesday evening that the tragedy occurred at Bastia Football Stadium before the French Cup semi-final between Bastia and Marseille. A temporary grandstand built of scaffolding collapsed when thousands of enthusiastic feet stamped in unison, leaving several dead and many hundreds injured. Medical services were stretched to the limit and most people in Calvi expected the rally to end there because so many ambulances and doctors had been diverted to Bastia.

Surprisingly, however, it did restart, but after three special stages were completed the remaining four were abandoned due to the absence of emergency cover, and the rally made its non-competitive way back to Ajaccio, where it ended quietly without any of the usual boisterous finish-ramp celebrations.

Auriol finished just 1m 26s ahead of Delecour, who in turn was 1m 49s ahead of Bugalski. Aurrol thus moves up to third place in the World Championship, whilst Sainz, by virtue of 10 points scored from his fourth place, moves into the lead, exactly that number of points ahead of Kankkunen. Among the makes, Lancia has extended its lead over Toyota to 14 points. Next round is Greece’s Acropolis Rally in June.

Tour of Corsica – 3 – 6 May, 1992

1st: Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli – Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Gp A
2. Francois Delecour/Daniel Grataloup – Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4, Gp 4
3. Philippe Bugalski/Denis Giraudet – Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Gp A
4. Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya – Toyota Celica Turbo 4wd, Gp A
5. Armin Scwarz/Arne Hertz – Toyota Celica Turbo 4wd, Gp A

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