The FIA European Rally Championship’s Mr Loyal has chased success on all rounds of the series in 2014. The Delta Rally driver looks ahead of his home ERC event, Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse.
As a driver, what does competing on a legendary rally like Tour de Corse mean to you?
“When I was a kid I went to watch the rally twice with my dad and it was the first time we went to see a WRC round. This is where I saw Philippe Bugalski with the Citroën Xsara Kit Car and I can remember how impressed I was. For me it means a lot to drive there, it means I have somehow achieved my dreams and I keep fighting for them. It won't be my first time here as I already competed in 2013 and with very bad luck because I crashed. So I hope 2014 will be better.”
Friday's route features stages that haven't been run for 30 years, how will you prepare for this challenge?
“Maybe I should ask Jean-Pierre Nicolas for a few tips. He’s the ERC Sporting Manager who already won the rally in 1973. He knows those stages well!”
Your target of a top-five finish in the final ERC standings is still achievable. What's your strategy in Corsica going to be?
“It's a very complicated and long rally, we are going to start on a normal pace and adjust our strategy depending on our classification stage after stage.”
You are officially the most loyal ERC driver having contested all 11 rounds in 2014. How hard have you had to work to achieve this and what kind of scarifies have you made?
“Everyone around me is doing sacrifices, Delta Rally with their competitive prices, as we are running an ERC round with a smaller budget than an ERC Junior driver for sure. My co-driver Maxime Vilmot, with his commitment, my family as I don't see them often, especially Alexandra, my wife, who travels a lot as well but always tries to come on my rallies, and my sponsors who believe in me. Achieving a season like this one represents a lot of day-to-day work. I gather everyone around the project, keep motivating them, talk to sponsors daily or weekly and make sure they are still on to help you. This is my routine when I'm not in a rally car.”
Looking back on the ERC season so far, what has been your best moment and what has been your worst?
“My best memory is the first fourth position overall with the Peugeot 207 Super 2000 on the Circuit of Ireland Rally. My worst moment might be Ypres as we were really strong and had a very good pace, but were forced to retire after a very scary episode because of a fire.”
Following 10 rounds, 162 special stages, a whole heap of action and plenty of serious competition, the thrilling race for the FIA European Rally Championship concludes on the Mediterranean island of Corsica next week.
Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse, which starts in Porto-Vecchio on 6 November and finishes in Ajaccio on 8 November, is running for a 57th time in 2014 and remains one of the most legendary and demanding rallies on the international calendar.
Known as the ‘Rally of 10,000 Corners’ due to the frequency of twists and turns over spectacular mountain passes, this year’s event will decide the outcome of the overall ERC title, the ERC Production Car Cup, the ERC 2WD Championship and the new-for-2014 ERC Junior Championship. The ERC Asphalt Master for surface specialists is also up for grabs in Corsica.
The 2014 ERC season-closer marks a step back in time with Friday’s route using stages not run for 30 years, while the November date recreates the spirit of the event’s past when the rally traditionally took place towards the end of the year. Following Free Practice, the Qualifying Stage and shakedown on Thursday, 11 stages are scheduled over a distance of 251.56 kilometres.
Tour de France memories for Corsica ERC counter
Having selected Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Corte as the rally’s central hub in recent years, Porto-Vecchio has been chosen as the new starting point for 2014. The tourist town, Corsica’s third largest and the starting point for the island’s opening leg of the Tour de France cycle race in 2013, will host the ceremonial start from 20:00hrs on Thursday 6 November, two service halts on Friday 7 November, while the Qualifying Stage will take place between Ceccia and Pasciallelo a few kilometres south of the Porto-Vecchio. By using Porto-Vecchio, organisers are able to include classic stages around Sartène and the Forêt d’Ospédale (Palavèse-L’Ospédale, Sorbollano-Pont D’Accoravo, Sartène-Orone), which have been absent from the Tour de Corse for several years.
Destination Ajaccio via Propriano
Following the completion of leg one’s six stages, crews will head to Ajaccio for an overnight halt via a regroup in Propriano. Saturday’s final leg consists of five stages – a single run through Acqua Doria-Col de Bellevalle plus two visits to Bastelica-Tavera and Sarrola-Plage du Liamone. The finish in Ajaccio is scheduled to begin at 17:32hrs local time on 8 November.
Star-studded entry for Corsica ERC finale
Stars from stage and track will be in action on Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse, which boasts an entry of more than 50 cars. Among those taking part are ŠKODA’s ERC title chasers Esapekka Lappi and Sepp Wiegand, Peugeot duo Kevin Abbring and Craig Breen, last year’s Corsica winner Bryan Bouffier, ERC regulars Robert Consani, Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Bruno Magalhães, Jaromír Tarabus and Antonín Tlusťák, Swiss star Jonathan Hirschi, plus Le Mans 24 Hours racers Romain Dumas and Stéphane Sarrazin with Dumas giving the RGT Porsche 997 its ERC debut.
ERC titles to go down to the wire in Corsica
While Esapekka Lappi needs five points to become European champion for the first time and Zoltán Bessenyey holds a comfortable advantage in ERC 2WD, Martin Hudec remains in touching distance of Vitaliy Pushkar in the ERC Production Car Cup. Elsewhere, Andrea Crugnola is a mere nine points behind Stéphane Lefebvre in ERC Junior, while the ERC Asphalt Master award will be decided on the Mediterranean island.
Lappi on Wiegand, Wiegand on Lappi
The battle for the ERC title will come down to a two-horse race between ŠKODA team-mates Esapekka Lappi and Sepp Wiegand. And this is what they have had to say about each other ahead of Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse. Lappi on Wiegand: “He's quite smart driver, I have to say. He’s using his head during the rallies and finishing the rallies. He’s maybe not the fastest guy, but he’s taking the points.” Wiegand on Lappi: “As Esapekka comes from Finland, he’s extremely fast. With all those fast roads and jumps in Finland, he is used to drive fast. He drives a bit longer than me, he has a bit more experience. He does a bit more testing and drives more. I think he’s very motivated, he always aims for the best and he is very focused. I believe he has a good package.”
Six of the best for ERC Junior
Six ERC Junior drivers will be in action in Corsica. Although the focus will be on title contenders Stéphane Lefebvre and Andrea Crugnola’s race for the prize drive in an R5 car on selected rounds of next year’s ERC, Fabio Andolfi, Gino Bux, Florin Tincescu and Aleks Zawada will all be looking to end their respective seasons on a high. Although he’s out of contention for the title, Zawada can still finish runner-up in the final standings.
Local aces out in force on ERC finale
Corsican youngster Jean-Mathieu Leandri will step up to a Ford Fiesta R5 for the first time having started 2014 competing in ERC Junior. Frenchman Laurent Reuche will make his second ERC start in as many weeks armed with Renault’s Clio R3T following a debut ERC 2WD win in Switzerland, while Eric Camilli will be one to watch in a Peugeot 207 S2000.
Subaru chance for Cronin
Keith Cronin will make his return to international competition following a year away in JRM’s Subaru WRX STI. The Irishman, a three-time British champion, will face opposition from ERC Production Car Cup title rivals Vitaliy Pushkar and Martin Hudec and rapid Hungarian Tibor Erdi.
The battle for the FIA European Rally Championship will come down to a two-horse race between ŠKODA Motorsport team-mates Esapekka Lappi and Sepp Wiegand on next week’s Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse.
And this is what they had to say about each other on the Inside ERC programme, which was broadcast on Eurosport on Tuesday night.
Lappi (left) on Wiegand: “He's quite smart driver, I have to say. He’s using his head during the rallies and finishing the rallies. He’s maybe not the fastest guy, but he’s taking the points.”
Wiegand on Lappi: “As Esapekka comes from Finland, he’s extremely fast. With all those fast roads and jumps in Finland, he is used to drive fast. He drives a bit longer than me, he has a bit more experience. He does a bit more testing and drives more. I think he’s very motivated, he always aims for the best and he is very focused. I believe he has a good package.”