This weekend's Tour of Corsica is widely acknowledged as the most famous and challenging pure asphalt rally of the entire World Championship. As such it will be a perfect proving ground for the all-new Skoda Fabia WRC and an awesome demonstration of every driver's skill.

Skoda Motorsport aims to build on the experience gained in Sanremo a week ago, as the team heads into the second of three tarmac rallies during October. But the asphalt of Corsica will be very different from the surfaces the crews encountered around Sanremo, where the Fabia WRC claimed its first points in the manufacturer's competition.

Corsica is nicknamed 'the rally of the 10,000 corners' and the event is characterised by narrow roads with plenty of surface changes. Recently-laid asphalt can suddenly give way to broken and rutted tarmac, as the cars flash through mountain villages at speeds of over 200 kilometres per hour.

Didier Auriol, who won the World Championship in 1994, is a record-equalling six-time winner of the Tour of Corsica so he knows the island well. He has a special affection for the place, as Corsica was where Auriol took his first of 20 World Rally victories to date. But the Frenchman knows that this year's event will be even tougher than usual.

"I think asphalt rallies especially are becoming more competitive all the time," he said. "We have to be realistic: Corsica will be a tough rally for us. The Skoda Fabia WRC is getting better and better. The main area of development is now the engine. But I am very happy with the handling of the car: it behaves nicely and feels easy to drive.

"Corsica is a rally I like, and I think we might be able to take advantage of any bad weather. Generally, I expect the weather conditions to be quite similar to Sanremo. In particular, we will need to look out for leaves on the road - they can make corners very slippery."

Auriol is competing on his 17th Tour of Corsica, while his young Finnish team-mate Toni Gardemeister is contesting the island event for only the third time. But Gardemeister enjoys driving on sealed surfaces, and is rapidly building a reputation as an asphalt ace.

"I actually prefer Corsica to Sanremo, as the roads are more flowing and it's easier to find a rhythm," said the Finn, "It's impossible to predict what might happen, but if our car stays reliable then we should be able to try for a good result. In testing I have been very happy with the car's asphalt set-up. There is certainly a lot of potential."

Skoda Motorsport manager Pavel Janeba concluded: "I agree with the drivers that there is a lot more potential in the car than we actually use at the moment. But although we cannot make huge development steps between the asphalt rallies, I am hoping to see some progress in Corsica. The asphalt testing we have carried out before has been very productive."

The Tour of Corsica was held in spring last season, and the autumn weather conditions this year will be even more unpredictable. Rain is a common feature of the event, and some fog can also be expected high up in the mountains. Corsica is one of the most compact rallies of the entire World Championship, with all the stages within half an hour's drive of Rally HQ in Ajaccio. All the drivers are expecting a flat-out sprint from start to finish as the championship reaches its climax.

The 2003 Tour of Corsica gets underway with a ceremonial start on Thursday October 16 in Ajaccio. Drivers then tackle 397 competitive kilometres over 16 stages before the finish back in Ajaccio at 1430 on Sunday October 19.



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