SÉBASTIEN Ogier headed a Volkswagen Motorsport 1-2 as he set fastest time through the shakedown stage at the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse.
The Frenchman, bidding to secure his fourth straight world drivers’ title on home ground, completed three runs on Thursday through the 5.40km Sorbo Ocagnano test, posting the fastest time of 3min 51.7sec in his Polo R on the final attempt.
Team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala moved to within 0.8sec of Ogier in his fifth and final pass with Kris Meeke completing the top three in Citroën’s DS3, a further 0.6sec further back.
“It’s no secret that I would love to win this event. I have won the French rally already twice but never in Corsica and that’s something I would like to change,” said Ogier, adding pre-event testing had been targeted at the long stages which will be key to the outcome.
“In the tests we’ve been working on long distances to ensure the set-up of the car is adapted to that and to help us also to save the tyres, because this rally is about the driving style but also the set up.
“We have a long stage every day, with a lot of different sections where you must adapt the rhythm and adapt to the different conditions, so it’s a big challenge.”
Fourth in shakedown was a three-way tie between Hyundai teammates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo, driving i20 World Rally Cars, and the DS3 of Craig Breen.
The WRC 10th round starts in earnest on Friday morning, with first leg in the south of Corsica comprising 157.68 kilometres of special stages.
Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia have only an outside chance of clinching their respective fourth championships this weekend, despite the Volkswagen crew’s favourable starting position on the event’s tarmac stages.
Not only would they have to win the rally, six other duos still with a mathematical chance would have to leave virtually empty-handed.
The challenge is considerable. Tour de Corse is known as the ‘Rally of 10,000 Corners’ and comprises just 10 very long stages on rough, sometimes crumbly asphalt covering 390.92 kilometres. It’s said Corsica’s longest straight is its airport.
With the exception of the closing Power Stage, every special stage is at least 30 kms long, presenting a physical endurance test for the drivers and a mental challenge for the co-drivers, who must call the pace notes with perfect timing.
Seventy percent of this year’s route is new and crews are hoping none of it is subject to the wild weather that made 2015 an endurance test in more ways than one.
After a long break since August caused by the last-minute cancellation of Rally China, WRC teams are about to start an intensely busy period with the French, Spanish and British WRC rounds in just four weeks before the tour sets off for its final date of the year at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on 17-20 November.
The shakedown leading times were:
1 Sébastien Ogier (Volkswagen Polo R) 3min 51.7sec
2 Jari-Matti Latvala (Volkswagen Polo R) 3min 52.5sec
3 Kris Meeke (DS 3) 3min 53.1sec
4= Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20) 3min 53.4sec
4= Dani Sordo (Hyundai i20) 3min 53.4sec
4= Craig Breen (DS 3) 3min 53.4sec
7 Hayden Paddon (Hyundai i20) 3min 55.0sec
8. Andreas Mikkelsen (Volkswagen Polo R) 3min 55.5sec
9. Ott Tänak (Ford Fiesta RS) 3min 56.0sec
10. Eric Camilli (Ford Fiesta RS) 3min 57.0sec