The Mediterranean island of Corsica was the original home of the ‘Rally de France’. The legendary ‘Tour de Corse’ had been held on the popular holiday island since 1956 and had also earned the nickname ‘rally of 10,000 bends’ on account of the winding mountain roads. However, there was a big upheaval in the 2010 season, when the French world championship run relocated to the Alsace region, with Strasbourg at the centre of the action. In the area bordering Germany, the rally used the familiar roads from the previous Rally de Alsace-Vosges.
The newly crowned world champion team Renault Alpine ended the 1973 season in style with a treble victory in the Tour de Corse that was never in any doubt. Jean-Pierre Nicolas emerged victorious ahead of Jean-François Piot and Jean-Luc Thérier. Back then, the trip around Corsica was still held on the first weekend in December, which is why the rally was still subject to the whims of the weather. There was even snow on some of the mountain passes. On this surface, the rear-mounted engine on the lightweight Alpine had a substantial traction advantage over its rivals.
Porsche celebrated its last World Rally Championship victory in the 1980 Tour de Corse. Jean-Luc Thérier prevailed over his Fiat, Talbot, Renault and Datsun rivals in the 911 SC. At the same time, it was the last win in the world championship recorded by a two-seater sports car, although these continued to grace the starting line-up until the mid-1980s. In 1981, a Ferrari 308 only narrowly missed out on victory; two years later, even a BMW M1 lined up at the start on the Mediterranean island. The Corsican mountain roads were simply perfect for the lightweight sports cars.
In the mid-1980s, the Tour de Corse saw two bad accidents. In 1985, Attilio Bettega was involved in a fatal crash in his Lancia 037 Rally; one year later, Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto died on Corsica after their Lancia Delta S4 was completely burned out following an accident. As a consequence of this tragedy, the FIA decided to end Group B events at the end of the 1986 season. As popular as the ‘Group B monsters’ were among the fans, the 550-horsepower, thoroughbred rally cars were too dangerous for the sporting authorities.
‘That was a great first win for the new Toyota Celica GT-Four,’ beamed the reigning world champion Didier Auriol at the finish line. ‘But I also had a lot of luck following the drama before the start.’ Just 24 hours before the event began, Auriol found out that his usual co-driver Bernard Occelli was unable to take part in the rally. With his new co-driver Denis Giraudet, Auriol took it easy at first. Scoring points was the name of the game. Six stages before the end, Auriol was still in third place and a win seemed out of reach. Then Auriol overtook François Delecour – and the leader Bruno Thiry (both Ford) retired due to wheel bearing damage. Auriol was poised and thus secured an unlikely victory.
In the 2005 Tour de Corse, Sébastien Loeb, the man who knows a thing or two about records, reached yet another milestone. On all three rally days he drove the fastest time in all twelve special stages in his Citroën Xsara WRC. No other driver before or since has managed such a feat. With this in mind, the fact that Loeb won the rally with an advantage of almost two minutes over his closest chaser, Toni Gardemeister in the Ford Focus WRC, is almost incidental.
The WRC title was definitively claimed on the first day of Rally France, when the strongest contender Thierry Neuville failed to achieve the fastest time in the first Power Stage and had to go without the three points that were up for grabs. As a result, the championship win was in the bag for Sébastien Ogier before the event had even really got off the ground. The Ogier/Ingrassia pairing put in their usual confident performance during the rally and scored a succession of fastest times. And the two Frenchmen put the icing on the WRC cake by winning their home event – giving Volkswagen Motorsport yet another reason to celebrate.