Only four days after the speed tests in Spain fell silent, the World Rally Championship will fire up again this week for the second instalment of the asphalt double-header in the Mediterranean.

Although it is only a short journey across the water to the craggy island of Corsica, Rallye de France-Tour de Corse offers a challenge far removed from the one that competitors have just faced on Rally de Espana.

The 13th round of the series, and the final sealed surface fixture of the 2008 campaign, is regarded as the championship's 'classic' asphalt rally.

In contrast to the smooth, sweeping roads of Spain, the popular holiday island offers narrow and tortuously twisty ribbons of asphalt on mountain roads that are susceptible to sudden and unpredictable changes in weather that can turn the rally against a driver just like flicking a switch.

Affectionately known as the Rally of 10,000 Corners, the event has evolved considerably in recent years.

Roads that twist and turn with the contours of a mountain, with a rock face on one side and a huge drop into the sea on the other, are less frequent now. Nevertheless though, it remains hugely demanding and the abrasive asphalt requires hard-wearing tyres.

Special notes:

The Rallye de France-Tour de Corse is renowned as one of the most watched events on the WRC calendar as its history dates back to the inaugural running of the championship in 1973 and it has produced legendry winners from every WRC era.

Based in Ajaccio on the west of the island, the service park sits within the town's shipping port.

Coming just days after Rally Catalunya, Corsica's challenge is also waged on asphalt roads, but winding through the mountainous and beautifully unspoiled countryside, they are of a very different nature.

Indeed in contrast to Corsica's quiet demeanour, the rally route is anything but laid back. The Rally of a Thousand Corners is a fitting moniker for this test that certainly keeps the drivers busy.

The roads are flowing, meaning that they are also very fast, but are characterised by the constant dance of hard acceleration and heavy braking, cars teetering on the edge of adhesion.

After a ceremonial start at the Place Austerlitz in the centre of Ajaccio on Thursday evening, competitors embark upon sixteen stages totalling 359.02 kilometres.

FIA World Rally Championship news:

Sebastien Loeb extended his lead in the race for the 2008 drivers' title to 12 points following his victory on the Rally Catalunya last weekend.

Now classified with 96 points to the 84 notched up by Mikko Hirvonen, the Frenchman could take the title in France, assuming he wins and his Finnish rival fails to finish higher than seventh.

In the Manufacturers' Championship, the Citroen Total WRT took its third 1-2 finish on round 12 and strengthened its lead over BP Ford Abu Dhabi - the gap up from 20 points to 27 points. Citroen too could sow up the honours in Corsica, assuming things fall favourable for the French outfit.

News from the Manufacturers' teams:

Citroen Total WRT:

[Sebastien Loeb, car #1 and Daniel Sordo, car #2]

Sebastien Loeb:

"It's good to be in this situation [with a good lead in the drivers' series]. But I will go to Corsica as I go to every rally, to try and fight for the victory. The Fords were good on the second and third day in Spain. Maybe they were looking for the setting or rhythm [on day 1]. I think it will be closer this weekend."

Dani Sordo:

"We were as fast as we could be in Spain and the only thing that stopped us from winning was having Sebastien in front. He's a very fast driver. We needed a little more time than him to adapt to the Pirelli tyres. I hope I'll be able to get closer in Corsica. I will try and go faster there. I like the roads in Corsica. They are twister, there's more grip and it's more technical. I have confidence with the new tyres now - they worked really well last weekend. We'll see what happens."

BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT:

[Mikko Hirvonen, car #3 and Francois Duval, car #4 and Khalid Al Qassimi, car #17]

Mikko Hirvonen:

"The weather is so unpredictable here. One moment it's dry and sunny, the next it can be pouring with rain. The tyre rules mean we only have hard or soft compound rubber from which to choose - basically a dry tyre and a wet weather option - which makes the choice easier. However, it has become more important to know when it will start raining, rather than how hard it will rain as we only have the one wet weather option anyway. On the second day we have to choose tyres more than three hours before the final test in the loop so if rain is forecast, the team needs to predict when it will arrive so we can choose the correct rubber. Pirelli's tyres work well on the Focus RS WRC in light rain, but I've not experienced heavy rain yet so I wouldn't feel quite so comfortable in those conditions.

"I like competing on consecutive weekends because it's easy to slot into the driving style required for asphalt having just finished a rally on the same surface. This rally is much slower than Spain. It's more twisty, with corner after corner. Although some roads have been resurfaced in recent years to make them smoother, there are still many bumpy sections with broken asphalt which is abrasive for tyres. It's tough, but I enjoy Corsica because it's the classic asphalt rally in the championship and more traditional than the other sealed surface events."

Francois Duval:

"Corsica's roads are twisty, abrasive and aggressive on tyres. It's important for a driver to have the same attacking attitude as in Spain, but to balance that with some caution. To attack too hard in Corsica can lead to mistakes, because the roads are so narrow that if a driver makes an error there isn't much room to correct it before hitting something. I had a really good test there before we went to the rally in Spain. I covered about 300km in a day-and-a-half.

"I had a good rally in Spain, but I think Corsica can be better and I would like to challenge for victory. I feel confident because Rally de Espa?a was good training for Corsica. This is a difficult rally and hard for a driver, but that's the type of challenge I enjoy."

Khalid Al Qassimi:

"I've never seen the stages in Corsica and never been to the island. Having finished Spain, I can go there with another asphalt event under my belt, with more confidence and ready to really give it my all. This is the final asphalt event of the season so it's important I continue to make progress. Next year there are many changes to the WRC calendar and there will be many new events for me where experience and mileage will be the keys to success."

Subaru WRT:

[Petter Solberg, car #5 and Chris Atkinson, car #6 and Brice Tirabassi, car #14]

Petter Solberg:

"Spain and Corsica are completely different events as the nature of the roads is different and the surface is much more abrasive. The biggest thing though is that they are so close together. It doesn't necessarily make it tougher on drivers and it's not because it's physically hard, but because normally if you are fast on one rally, you are fast on the next. You build the confidence. And if you are slow on one rally, you are slow on the next. There's no time for teams to really work on the cars between the two either."

Chris Atkinson:

"The roads are much more bumpy and narrow in Corsica, so it does demand different things from you in the car. The cars all react a lot more to the bumps than they did in Spain, so there is a lot more work to do in predicting and feeling where and when they are going to bounce and move. I think you can definitely carry confidence from Spain into Corsica. While it's generally the case, you can't just assume that a good feeling in Spain will lead to the same in France though. It's the second part of a very important series of rallies that could set you up well for the last part of the season so you can't take anything for granted."

Brice Tirabassi:

"Corsica is my home event and I am very excited to be doing the rally in a works Impreza. It's a fantastic opportunity for me, and after the experience of Spain I want to push myself and the car a little bit harder. I've had more experience of WRC cars in Corsica than in Spain, so I hope this will help my performance. It's also nice because Fabrice lives in Corsica, so I think we'll have lots of support."

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally team:

[Matthew Wilson, car #7 and Jari-Matti Latvala, car #8 and Henning Solberg, car #16 and Barry Clark, car #15]

Matthew Wilson:

"We had a few stages in Spain where I was under one second per kilometre off the leader so that's a very positive feeling to take to Corsica next week. I like the stages as the grip is good on the abrasive roads and with a more relaxed recce period than other events, it allows me more time to look over the video and prepare for the rally. I find it beneficial to have two events very close together; we finished off well in Spain, with a good setup and confidence, and that means we will start in Corsica with this fresh in my mind. The weather as always can be very unpredictable on the island but if it stays dry I'm confident we can finish with a points result."

Jari-Matti Latvala:

"I am really looking forward to Corsica now after the improvements we made in Spain. I love the Corsica stages as they are more abrasive and the grip is good and it gives you a good feeling to be able to push on harder. I finished fourth here last year and won Group N a few years ago so I'm hoping for a good result again. I think my confidence will be better as I know I can push harder on the stages; there are not so many cuts, less gravel pulled out onto the road and they flow quite well when you get into a good rhythm. I found a good setting in Spain but most of all I learnt a lot about the Pirelli tyres and now I know how much I can push them and that I need to be really precise with them. That's what helped me to get better times in Spain."

Henning Solberg:

"Spain last week was a good learning event for us and we managed to find a setting that I was happy with after my engineer helped with some new differential settings. I drove a strong event remembering that I needed to learn as much as possible from Spain and now I am in a stronger position for Corsica. The more abrasive stages here will help me and I'm confident the feeling with the car will be improved."

Barry Clark:

"This is going to be a seriously tough rally but I'm really looking forward to the challenge. Corsica is different from other tarmac events because there is just corner after corner and virtually no straights. It's also very narrow and bumpy so there's a lot to contend with. I've competed in Corsica once before in 2006 in the Fiesta but this will be a whole different scenario. It will be about having a good shakedown and building up my feeling and confidence in the Focus WRC."

Suzuki WRT:

[Toni Gardemeister, car #11 and Per-Gunnar Andersson, car #12]

Toni Gardemeister:

"Corsica is a rally that you need to know well. I've always liked it, although it's important to find a good rhythm straight away. The most difficult thing about it is the fact that the asphalt is always changing and that you can never guess what the weather will do. I know the roads quite well, and it will be interesting to see what sort of difference it makes to the team to have competed there before. The problem we have is that the opposition will be very tough, as asphalt is usually a less forgiving surface than gravel. But if we maintain our good reliability, then I don't see why we can't score some points."

P-G Andersson:/B>

"Corsica is one of those legendary rallies that everybody talks about because it is such a big challenge. Although it went very well for me last time [and I clinched my second Junior title], I've still got a lot to learn about the place as well as about asphalt driving in general. So for me, the priority will be to check my pace notes and make sure that I finish."

Junior WRC:

Round 7 - Finale time.

After making a crucial error in Spain, Sebastian Ogier will be out to try and clinch the 2008 Junior World Rally Championship title on the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse this weekend.

Ogier was well on course to do that on the Rally Catalunya and was leading by over a minute, when he hit a bank in the last stage on day 2 and damaged the radiator on his Citroen C2 S1600. That no score has allowed Aaron Burkart to close the gap to just four points and the German now has an outside chance of stealing the crown should the Frenchman drop the ball again.

"I will put as much pressure as I can on Ogier in Corsica," Burkart vowed, after finishing third in Spain, "and I'll be ready to jump if he makes a mistake!"

Ogier in contrast will just want to make sure Spain was just a blip: "We need to just put Catalunya behind us and move on," he added. "We have to be fully focussed on Corsica."

No other drivers' meanwhile are still in the running for the title, although Martin Prokop is likely to be strong and will start as one of the favourites to win following his triumph last weekend.

Three J-WRC regulars will skip Corsica - namely Shaun Gallagher, Francesco Fanari and Andrea Cortinovis. Gallagher and Fanari both opted not to nominate this event at the start of the year as one of their six points' scoring rounds, while Cortinovis, who missed Spain too, is still recovering following a minor operation.

There will be two 'wild cards' - with Pierre Campana in a Renault Clio R3 MAXI and Pierre Marche in a Suzuki Swift. Marche joins regulars Suzuki Swift trio Jaan Molder, Michal Kosciuszko and Florian Niegel for the start.

"I've driven in Corsica one time before, which is useful as it is definitely the sort of event where a bit of previous experience is useful," said Kosciuszko. "The roads are quite narrow so you have to know where exactly to place the car.

"On the whole I prefer roads that are more open than the ones in Corsica but you just have to adapt your driving style to the conditions. Spain was a disappointing event for me championship-wise, so I hope to make up for that in Corsica."

Other significant entries:

80 crews due to start.

80 crews are due to start the Rallye de France-Tour de Corse - with 26 in World Rally Cars. In addition to the usual 'works' entries there will be another 12 runners in privately entered WRC cars, including Andreas Mikkelsen, Mads Ostberg and Britain's Gareth Jones.

Of the rest as well as the 16 crews in the J-WRC, another 37 will also take in the round too - six will battle it out for the N4 win, including P-WRC front runner, Juho Hanninen, while seven have opted to enter the round under the N3 class, one in N1 and 23 in Group A - eight in A7 and 15 in A6 cars.

Route:

The rally is again based in Ajaccio with the action held over stages close to the island's west coast. Each leg comprises a different loop of stages used in both the morning and afternoon. Most of the roads are familiar to competitors from last year, but the opening two legs each include a test not used for several years and the final day's stages have been reversed from 2007. The first and last legs head south of Ajaccio with the middle day's competition stretching north of the town. The three legs are all of similar distance and drivers face 16 stages covering 359.02km in a route of 1094.36km.

Last year:

Sebastien Loeb took his third win in a row last year in Corsica last year, beating Marcus Gronholm by 23.7 seconds.

Dani Sordo took the final spot on the rostrum, 20.6 seconds further back, while Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg came in fourth and fifth. Chris Atkinson, Jan Kopecky and Xavier Pons rounded out the points' scorers with Henning Solberg ninth and Dani Sola tenth.

Francois Duval and Matthew Wilson were the two big retirements, both sidelined by mechanical issues.

 

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