The 45th Tour de Corse takes place this weekend, the twelfth round in the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship. France will also play host to the seventh and final round in the 2003 FIA Production Car WRC.

Compared with other classic asphalt events this event has a different style.

Not withstanding the sight of the imperious mountains which dominate the island, the roads themselves are seldom particularly steep, and the roads tend to be forever changing direction.

The character of the roads has changed over the years. The traditional narrow bumpy surfaces have in recent years given way to smoother and wider roads, and a change of date will bring about new requirements on account of climatic change.

New this year:

There is a new Shakedown location, to the west of Ajaccio, with a special Service Park nearby for use on the Thursday. For the rest of the event the Service Park headquarters and media centre are all located together outside the Airport, as last year.

Many new detailed changes to the stages, no stages exactly the same length as before.

For the first time the event will have a Ceremonial start on the Thursday evening in the town [Place Foch].

FIA World Rally Championship news:

Sebastien Loeb's victory in Sanremo, together with his proven asphalt talent, his Citroen car and the fact that two of the last three rallies are asphalt, mark him down as a major threat to the series leader Richard Burns.

News from the manufacturers' teams:
Marlboro Peugeot Total:

[Marcus Gronholm, car #1 and Richard Burns, car #2. Also nominated Gilles Panizzi, car #3].

Marcus Gronholm's last stage crash in Sanremo has severely dented his title hopes, and back pains lost him two days of testing in Scotland with the team last week. "The crash was incredible," said the Finn, "I completely misjudged how slippery the road was. I just could not believe how deceptive it was."

Citroen Total:

[Colin McRae, car #17 and Sebastien Loeb, car #18. Also nominated Carlos Sainz, car #19. Also entered but not nominated Philippe Bugalski, car #20.]

Jean-Claude Vaucard, the team's chief chassis engineer, commented: "Like most other teams we have done all the testing for the asphalt rallies together." Loeb drives chassis 7, the same car in which he has won Rallye Deutschland for the last two years. As usual for asphalt events, Citroen are running a four-car team.

Ford Motor Company:

[Markko Martin car #4 and Francois Duval, car #5, in 2003 specification cars. Also nominated Mikko Hirvonen, car #6 in a 2002 version car].

Martin has the same car in which he won Acropolis and Finland. Team boss Malcolm Wilson noted: "We are going with the same specification as in Sanremo. Actually we are quite happy with the way that similar events have been bunched together, it is a quite convenient arrangement."

555 Subaru World Rally Team:

[Petter Solberg, car #7 and Tommi Makinen, car #8.]

Tests were carried out by Petter Solberg in Italy to determine whether to use the new 'roll control' suspension system - the outfit has elected to go with it.

Team boss David Lapworth said: "We learned a lot about this system on our first outing with it in Sanremo. It was, however, not a good rally for us. We had expected to be closer to the leading competitors."

Skoda Motorsport:

[Didier Auriol, car #14 and Toni Gardemeister, car #15.]

The reason for Toni Gardemeister's accident in Sanremo has now been discovered. Left foot braking in the fog overheated the brakes and damaged a caliper seal. He tried using the handbrake to slow down but hit a wall. This will be Didier Auriol's 17th Tour de Corse, an event he has won six times.

Hyundai World Rally Team:

[Armin Schwarz, car #10 and Freddy Loix, car #11.]

The team will not be present on this event and is currently not expected to take part in Spain or Britain either.


Priority two entries:

The two top contenders for the French asphalt championship meet on neutral ground. The Tour de Corse does not qualify for the series, but the series favourite Alexandre Bengue drives his 206WRC and Benoit Rousselot drives the ex-Solberg Cyprus winning Impreza. This is the first 2003 Impreza WRC in private hands. The final round of the French series [Cevennes] follows the Tour de Corse.

News from the Production Car WRC:

This is the final round of the 2003 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship. Only two drivers can win, Martin Rowe and Toshihiro Arai.

The David Sutton Cars team, who run Martin Rowe and Stig Blomqvist, are off to Corsica with anxious high hopes. Sutton noted: "Martin Rowe only needs another four points (equivalent to fifth place in the category) to be champion, so we have built the strongest and most reliable car we can for him."

Arai has a new car for this event, fitted with a new type of rollcage which has recently been designed by Fuji Heavy to be stiffer than earlier competition bodyshells.

Top Run team are running one Evo VII for Fabio Frisiero, while their customer Wakujiro Kobayashi runs a Evo VIII. Marcos Ligato was due to take part, but he will miss this event - and the one in Spain next weekend - following a mountain bike accident.

Change of co-driver for Stefano Marrini: he reverts to competing with his long time girlfiend Titiana Sandroni for this event.

Janusz Kulig has rebuilt his crashed Cyprus Rally car for this event, and is to be co-driven by Maciej Szczepaniak as in Deutschland. Only Fabio Frisiero and Georgi Geradzhiev have not scored yet.

Other top runners:

Mark Higgins, brother of twice American champion David and former British champion, who won Group N at Sanremo in his R-E-D team Impreza, competes again on this event. This time the entry is much stronger in this category. Not only are there the PCWRC competitors, but also on the entry list are seasoned and successful Tour de Corse Group N specialist drivers Santoni, Rognoni and Ayme also taking part is top Italian Group N driver Gianluigi Galli.

Special facts:

This event will see the debut of the Renault Clio Ragnotti Group N car, to be driven by JWRC leader Brise Tirabassi, Jean-Pierre Manzagol and Eddie Mercier.

Manzagol is a veteran Tour de Corse competitor who twice finished fourth and once came third in the '70s, and has entered the large majority of Tour de Corse rallies (more than twice the number for Auriol!). Jean Ragnotti, whose name is given to the new car, twice won the Tour de Corse and once the Monte Carlo as a driver.

It is difficult to say which is the most successful marque in Corsica. Renault is the event's most successful marque with ten victories on their own account and four with Alpine-Renault, though Lancia scored 11 wins with two by the associated company Fiat.

 

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