Revenge is sweet
Whilst the Safari was rough, dusty and not very well supported by works teams, the Tour of Corsica was the opposite. The tortuous, undulating ribbons of narrow tarmac on this mountainous island attracted four major teams and two others which were using two-wheel-drive cars.
Whilst not rough by any standards, Corsican tarmac can be very abrasive, and the main feature of this event was the tremendous importance placed on tyre choice. Long gone are the days when tyres were made to last. Now, a tyre has to last a single stage and that is all, except in cases where 'no service' areas dictate that they have to last for two.
If a driver chooses tyres which are too soft, he will have plenty of grip to start with but will run the risk of having the treads wear completely away before the stage ends. If the tyres are too hard, he will lose time by having less grip. Grip is invariably traded against wear rate, and when stage roads are wet in parts and dry in others, as they often were this year in Corsica, the equation becomes more complex.
Compounding the problem this time was the case of a dry stage followed by a wet stage and separated by an area where service is forbidden. Having chosen slicks for the dry stage, a driver is then forced to stay on them for the following wet one, a circumstance which gave rise to several complaints.
The Tour of Corsica is relatively tame compared to its early days, when special stages were often embedded in selectifs which were also timed in seconds and had target times which were impossible. Ordinary road sections were also tight, and the whole thing was a road race in which even a stop for fuel or a tyre change could result in a penalty.
Nowadays, only the special stages count, although road timing is by no means overgenerous. Start, finish and one night stop were at Ajaccio, in the south-west of the island, whilst the other night stop was at Bastia in the north-east. The three legs each took place by day, and each contained eight special stages. There was one short regrouping stop during the first day and two each during the second and third. Total distance was about 700 miles, about half of which was devoted to special stages.
Toyota team took three Celicas to this event Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli drove one of them whilst the others were in the hands of François Chatriot/Denis Giraudet and Yves Loubet/Didier Breton.
The Jolly Club came with two Lancia Deltas for Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya and Andrea Aghini/Sauro Famocchia, whilst there were two Ford Escort Cosworths for François Delecour/Daniel Grataloup and Massimo Biasion/Tiziano Siviero. The engines of both the Fords and the Lancias were said to have been improved to give better torque since their last outing.
Just one Subaru Legacy was brought by Prodrive, for Colin McRae/Derek Ringer. Indeed, the foray was more a test exercise than anything else, and McRae was told that his objective was to finish, not to break any records.
Renault decided to bring its recently ratified Clio Williams, two of them in fact, for Jean Ragnotti/Gilles Thimonier and Alain Oreille/Jean-Marc Andrié. The fwd car has a two-litre engine giving a reported 220 bhp.
Opel Belgium brought its British-built Astra GSi to be driven by Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prevot. This and the two Renaults were the main contenders for two-wheel-drive honours, in FISA's controversial Formula Two section of the World Championship.
Bernard Béguin/JeanPaul Chiaroni drove a Ford Escort Cosworth which didn't seem to be much different from the works cars, whilst Giovanni Manfrinato/Claudio Condotta were in a Group N version of the Escort Cosworth. A Group N version of the Renault Clio Williams was driven by Serge Jordan/Jack Boyere.
Rain in the days before the start threatened to persist and remain for the rally itself, but on the first day much of it had gone. The trouble was, not all of it had gone, and tyre men were left with one of their worst nightmares – a mixture of dry roads and wet roads, sometimes even on the same stage.
From the start it was Delecour who made the running. On the first stage, over just 1.7 miles, he took a second less than Auriol and Chatriot. Delecour was fastest again on the second, whereas Auriol began complaining that his car was lacking torque, the very feature that engine changes had been intended to improve.
On the third, Chatriot's promising start suffered a setback. At the start, a minor petrol spillage ignited at the back of his car and, as he jumped out to extinguish it, he broke his intercom lead. He had to tackle the stage unable to hear his notes and he lost about a minute. Delecour was again fastest, even after spinning and hitting something with his front end. McRae hit a wall after spinning in a village, but the damage was slight.
Later, Aghini hit something with the back of his car, putting the suspension out of line and losing some time which dropped him from second to fifth. Auriol, in the meantime, had his engine computer replaced, after which his torque improved.
Thiry's rally all but came to a sudden stop on the sixth stage when his brakes jammed on and refused to be freed. He stopped to remove a wheel and release a jammed caliper and thereafter had to complete the stage with no brakes at all.
At the end of the leg, 15 minutes of extra time had been allowed for service but the bulletin given to crews concerning this had contained a typing error relating to the controls between which the extra time was given. Most people went in on their new times, but the two Lancias went in on their original times.
Immediately there were objections and the stewards wisely decided that no one should be penalised.
In Biasion's case, things were a little different, for he needed to stop for a clutch change and when the new one proved stubborn to fit the delay cost him 11 minutes of road penalties. By the end of that leg Delecour, who had recorded a string of best times, had opened out a lead of 1m 5s over Auriol. Sainz was another 11s behind, Chatriot another 18 and Aghini another two.
At the start line of the first stage of the second day, Biasion's intercom failed and, in his efforts to get it to work he inadvertently released his seat belt buckle. The result was a late start and an extra penalty.
On the next stage Delecour's engine began to run on just three cylinders. Was this the sign of impending disaster, or was it merely an electronic whim? It was neither. A spark plug electrode had broken, and when the plug was replaced the engine ran on all four again. But power was not fully restored and Delecour complained that the engine was not as good as it had been on the first day. When the turbocharger and all spark plugs were later changed, it was back to normal again and Delecour beamed with satisfaction.
Aghini's rally came to an end when he hit a rock, crossed the road and rolled down a bank. One of the car's wheels was found a few hundred yards away, and whether this came off before or as a result of the incident was never made really clear. In the same stage, Loubet also stopped when he hit a bridge parapet. The car could have been driven away, but it was well and truly stuck and Loubet had to wait until the stage was over before help could be mustered to recover it.
Biasion's brakes overheated for a while due to a blockage in the water cooling system, whilst Béguin had to do three stages with broken rear suspension before it could be fixed. McRae's gearbox, in the meantime, had become very noisy and, as there was no time to change it before the end of the leg, he was treating it very gently.
At the conclusion of this leg Auriol had his engine's electronics replaced yet again, whilst McRae was relieved that his noisy gearbox had survived long enough to be replaced at Bastia.
There, despite the time lost due to the misfire, Delecour led Auriol by 51s. Chatriot followed after another 39s. Sainz, in fourth place, was a further 65s adrift and McRae another 3m 51s.
Tuesday was sunnier than the previous days. In fact, it became quite hot, and this time there were problems associated with tyres overheating on the warm, abrasive tarmac. Rather than avoid the occasional pools of water, some drivers were deliberately driving through them in order to cool their tyres to get them to last the distance.
By this time, Auriol's engine was performing as it should, but he could nevertheless make no impression on Delecour. Short of a delaying problem, the Ford driver seemed to have the rally in the bag. Team-mate Biasion was also making better times, and during the day he moved up to pass first Oreille and then Ragnotti.
Tyre talk was still the main topic, and in some places it was noticeable that type numbers had been removed from tyres in order that the opposition could not see which ones were being used. It did seem that the Escorts were far less hard on tyres than the Toyotas, especially at the front. and Auriol was getting through them faster than Delecour.
Despite the intense rivalry between opposing drivers, camaraderie remains, and at the regrouping stop at Calvi it was interesting to see Delecour and Auriol lunching together – in the Jolly Club tent!
Throughout the rally Jordan had been leading the Group N category, but towards the end a gearbox mounting broke, causing the box to become jammed in third. Three stages driven in that manner cost considerable time, and the Group N category fell to Manfrinato in his Escort Cosworth.
At the end, Delecour was delighted not only to have his second win of the year, but to have avenged his almost unbelievable defeat in Monte Carlo. True, he won in Portugal, but Toyota was not there. This time he had beaten Auriol in a straight fight and that was very satisfying. G P