In the latter part of the Tour de Corse route history we take a look at the modern versions of the Corsican WRC rally, although it wouldn’t be anymore true to its name. This part offers a good selection of onboard videos.
Cover photo by Antoine Valentini / Flickr
At the end of April of 1996 Tour de Corse celebrated its 40th anniversary ironically by taking its turn in having a year off full WRC value, hosting only the F2 series. The length of the route remained similar to the previous year, but the format of the rally changed.
All night breaks were now held in Ajaccio, and the route merely revolved around the city in a cloverleaf format. The rally ran from Monday to Wednesday, with the first and third leg running South-East and the second leg North of the island capital.
The following year new rules had shortened all WRC rallies to 400 km of length. The 1997 Tour de Corse used the same structure as the year before, just in slightly shortened format. A remote service park was set up in Propriano on first and last days, and in Travarce on the second day. A number of stages were repeated on Sunday but only one of them completely, utilizing usually different starts for shared finish locations.
The 1998 route was similar, but the second leg was now moved further North, with a service park in the city of Corte. Meanwhile, the third leg was a perfect repeat of the first leg, with two stages on the North side of Ajaccio and the rest on the East side. The longest stage was now again only 31 km long.
Here we can see Colin McRae on the beginning of SS1 Vero – Pont d’Azzana, where he set the fastest time.
The 1998 stage Feo – Pancheraccia was outrageously fast with stage winner Carlos Sainz reaching an average speed of 119 km/h. The year after the stage was 10 km shorter from the end with the average speed at only 88 km/h. Apparently the aforementioned 10 km section must have been very quick indeed! Here we can see the shortened version of the stage from the 2000 event, with the title Feo – Altiani.
In 1999 the rally was moved back to the weekend. The route structure stayed largely similar, but again less stages were repeated. The overall length of 373 km was now the shortest the rally had ever seen.
The 1999 event was won infamously by Philippe Bugalski on the FWD Citroen Xsara Kit Car. His whole rally average speed of 94 km/h was faster than any 4WD car had ever recorded before.
In 2000 Tour de Corse was again moved back to October. The route structure was still the same, with Friday and Sunday being once again carbon copies of each other, and no repeated stages on Saturday.
The route of 2001 was further tightened due to new regulations, having a service park only in Ajaccio. The stages were set in quickly repeated short loops. This was the first time Tour de Corse repeated a stage on the same day. Friday was driven East, Saturday North-East and Sunday South of Ajaccio. Each stage of the rally was driven twice.
In 2002 Rally Deutschland joined WRC. This meant that there were now five tarmac rallies among the fourteen events, including the partly snow-covered Monte Carlo. However, Deutschland with its angular stages was greatly different in character to the constantly twisting Corsican roads.
The 2002 Tour de Corse was run exceptionally again in March. Its route was virtually identical to 2001, with just the Sainte Marie Sicche stage renamed to Petreto, and some kilometres cut from here and there.
This Gilles Panizzi onboard from 2002 claims to show the Vero stage but it’s actually Carbuccia, starting from Gare de Carbuggia and ending at Ucciani (the same stage we saw in the 1992 Bernardini onboard video on the first part of this blog post series).
In 2003 Tour de Corse returned to its October position, being a part of three consecutively run tarmac events. Now some less-used stages North of Ajaccio made up the Friday leg. Saturday was also largely new with stages East of Ajaccio, but Sunday remained unchanged.
The 2004 route was reduced to a repeated pair of stages per day. Friday was now driven South-East and Saturday North-East of Ajaccio, with Sunday staying the same for one more year.
Here we can see Markko Märtin on the Coti-Chiavari stage, a Sunday staple of this era. The roads have featured regularly on the event throughout the decades.
The routes of 2004, 2005 and 2006 were very similar with each other. The only route changes from 2004 to 2005 were cutting of the long Saturday stage ending in Bastelica, and changing first of the Sunday stages. However, the Sunday route returned back to the 2004 format for 2006, although in addition to that everything remained unchanged from 2005, save for one stage being lengthened a bit.
This video shows a typical Tour de Corse stage passing a town at high speed. The location is Moca-Croce on Ampaza – Col St. Eustache, which was the opening stage from 2004 to 2006 and featured also in 2003 in slightly shorter form.
The 2007 rally increased the stage count by having three repeated stages on Friday and Saturday. Now both Friday and Sunday were driven South-East of Ajaccio, while Saturday headed North-East.
It’s also worth mentioning that in 2007 almost 14 km of roads were planned to drive four times during the rally, first twice on Monti Rossu – Pila Canale on Friday, and twice on Pont de Calzola – Agosta on Sunday. However, the first run of the former was canceled because of badly parked spectator cars.
This edition became the fastest Tour de Corse up to that point with Sebastien Loeb’s winning average speed exceeding 98 km/h. The fastest stages on Friday had exceeded 108 km/h.
2008 used a very similar route, with just single stages swapped for another. Among the stages to go was the fastest 2007 stage Monti Rossu – Pila Canale.
Here we have the Maestro himself showing the 2008 stage Agosta – Pont de Calzola. Again, these roads have featured numerous times in the rally.
After this Tour de Corse was dropped off the WRC calendar, being replaced by Rallye d’Alsace. During the following years Tour de Corse was driven as a France Cup round, then as a part of IRC and ERC. The events used often different parts of the island than the last decade, dusting off some stages not used since the mid-90’s.
In 2015 Tour de Corse returned onto the WRC calendar. The routes were now again more creative, although limited by the modern WRC rules.
The 2015 event spread its functions over four cities. The start and finish were in Ajaccio, whereas the service park was in the middle of the island at the airport of Corte. However, the overnight breaks were held in the cities of Bastia and Porto-Vecchio.
The rally had only nine stages, with five of them driven only once, which was quite unusual for rallies of the time with most stages repeated with few single-run stages. No stages were repeated during a day, as the stage repeats were spread over Friday and Saturday.
However, other of the repeated stages had both of its runs cancelled because of bad weather causing landslides. Thus the rally equalled its smallest stage count of seven from 1975.
Even the stages which they managed to drive through had tricky conditions, as shown here by Elfyn Evans. The stage is Francardo – Sermano near Corte. It was used only this one year, although the roads have featured sometimes on other stages as well, but not often. This is the slowest recorded stage in the rally since 2002 with only 81 km/h of average speed, although here the rain played its part as well.
In 2016 the rally started again in Ajaccio with two long stages driven nearby and repeated with only a remote tyre change. After this there was a long liaison across the island to Bastia for the service park and night rest halt.
Two more stages in the North of the island were tackled on Saturday. The second of them, Novella, was a new one. It can be seen on this 2018 onboard, although the 2016 version extended longer at the end.
The second Saturday stage La Porta – Valle di Rostino contains another iconic location of Tour de Corse – going around Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de La Porta. This stage featured in the rally during the years 2016-2018 with its length revolved around 50 km.
64 km of stages over two stages on the final day wrapped up the 2016 event. First there was a long stage in the middle of the East coast and then a shorter power stage near Porto-Vecchio, at the South-East corner of the island.
The 2017 route remained identical in terms of the stage list, but some stages were shortened and others lengthened. At the same time the event reached its shortest overall distance so far – 316 km.
Remember that tricky hairpin from 1984? That where the 4WD Group B cars struggled to turn? See how nimbly the modern WRC cars tackle it, on the 2017 Pietrosella – Albitreccia stage.
In 2018 both Friday and Saturday were driven at the North end of the island, including a return to Cap Corse for the first time on WRC level since 1995. The Piedriggio – Pont de Castirla stage was the ending of the notorious Corte – Taverna stage, but Henri Toivonen had never made it to that section.
Sunday was now driven near Ajaccio, with the 55 km Vero – Sarrola-Carcopino stage being the longest of the rally since 1986. Coti-Chiavari returned for the power stage, although much of its route hadn’t been driven in decades, and even the familiar ending in reversed direction.
The 2019 route nodded towards the historical routes by taking the cars to three corners of the island. Only a fraction of the route was shared with the previous year.
Another curiosity of the 2019 Tour de Corse was that the hyphen format of the stage titles was abandoned. Each stage now had a single geographical name on its title, although the old format could have been used as well.
Friday was driven in the South of the island with the ceremonial start, first overnight break and Friday noon tyre change in Porto-Vecchio. At the end of Friday, a long liaison took the crews to Bastia for the first proper service and night break. Saturday was driven North near Bastia while Sunday went West towards Calvi for the first time on WRC level since 1995. However, Ajaccio was now completely omitted, for the first time ever in the history of the rally.
The two Sunday stages – Eaux de Zilia and Calvi – had average speeds of 121 and 117 km/h which are the fastest and third fastest stage ever driven in the rally. In fact the whole event also reached its average speed record of 102 km/h, being also the first time the event was run at a pace higher than 100 km/h. Only four of the 14 stages were slower than 100 km/h while 20 years earlier only a few stages could exceed that border.
The Corsican roads have been improving throughout the years, reminiscing sometimes Catalunya in their smoothness. You could even say the event has lost a bit of its character through road works.
The new WRC cars are fast, but they don’t explain the fast rally alone, since the two previous years had resulted in remarkably slower average speeds of 93 and 96 km/h. Instead, the outrageous speed has come through the selection of wider, smoother and straighter roads.
The 2019 rally even had two chicanes on the Castagniccia stage, and some of the stages started or ended behind a junction turn, whereas in the old days the junctions would have been kept free of road closure. It’s speculative whether FIA demanded these changes for the stages in order to bring the speeds down.
A good example of a wide and smooth Corsican stage is Desert des Agriates (run earlier as Casta – Pietra Moneta), performed here by Sebastien Loeb in 2019. The stage winner’s average speed on this stage was 109 km/h. There are no junction turns or tight hairpins and the surface is good.
After 2019 Tour de Corse was again dropped off the WRC calendar. The logistics of going onto an island are challenging for spectators and the teams, while the car market is not especially remarkable for manufacturers. As far as I know, Tour de Corse wasn’t planned to run on any championship level in 2020.
However, FIA and WRC promoter have agreed to arrange a round in France in 2021 and 2022 thanks to a rotating system, but it remains unclear whether it will be run in Corsica or on the mainland. It has been also proposed to combine the events of Germany and France at the border, since the Trier-based Rally Deutschland and Strasbourg-based Rally d’Alsace are not that far from each other.
In any case, I hope the tradition of Tour de Corse will continue in one way or another.