Tänak finishes second overall for the second time this season
The Yaris WRC demonstrates its progress with six Special Stage wins
The Tour de Corse – Rallye de France, the fourth round of the 2018 World Rally Championship, takes place on the island of Corsica. It is a traditional tarmac rally that has been part of the WRC since its inaugural season in 1973. However, the Tour de Corse actually dates back further, with the first edition taking place in 1956. It is therefore a classic event with a history of more than 60 years. While the list of winners reads like a who’s who of legendary drivers, the majority of winners hail from France, Italy, Spain and other countries in Southern Europe. Only four winners come from Northern Europe, but one of these is Jari-Matti Latvala, who was victorious in 2015.
The majority of Northern European drivers learn their trade on high-speed gravel courses; their driving style is characterized by controlling their cars using high-speed slides. The domestic rally championships in Southern Europe, on the other hand, are primarily held on tarmac; drivers therefore prioritize the direct transmission of driving force to the paved road surface, and aim for as little loss and sliding as possible. On the Tour de Corse, which is largely run on narrow, twisting routes, the Southern European driving style thereby confers an advantage.
Tommi Mäkinen, team principal of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team, says: “The Tour de Corse is one of the most difficult rallies for Northern European drivers such as myself. The course punishes even the smallest mistake, and drivers must have 100 percent faith in their rally cars. The setup to the minute details take on an importance greater than at other rallies.”
Hänninen contributes significantly to the development of the Yaris WRC’s tarmac specifications
The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team conducted careful tarmac tests in preparation for the rally. Juho Hänninen, who drove the Yaris WRC alongside Jari-Matti Latvala last season, also took part in these tests, helping to make improvements to the car particularly to the suspension. Although Hänninen is Finnish, he is quick on all surfaces, and he recorded leading times even on tarmac in the last year. The Finn’s outstanding driving technique and knowledge contributed to the improved performance of the Yaris WRC on tarmac. After the conclusion of the tests, Jari-Matti Latvala, Ott Tänak, and Esapekka Lappi felt the car possessed great potential, and approached the rally itself with confidence.
Unexpected difficulties on the narrow, twisting roads of the Tour de Corse
However, when the rally began, the Yaris WRC was unable to replicate the performance it had shown in the tests. As SS1 was wet in parts, Tänak and Latvala had no confidence in the behavior of the car on these wetter sections of road. The drivers were unable to push the pace as a result, Meanwhile Tänak ended the stage some 18 seconds adrift of the leader, although he recorded the third fastest time on the 49-kilometer-long SS1. Lappi was 43 seconds and Latvala 46 seconds behind. SS2 was a shorter stage, and Lappi was second fastest, just two seconds off first. Latvala and Tänak also both managed to stay within about seven seconds off the leader.
The long SS1 was characterized by roads that were, on the whole, narrow and twisting, with a reasonably slow average speed. SS2 was somewhat more rapid, with the average speed of the leading drivers roughly 10km/h faster than in SS1. These subtle differences in stage characteristics meant that finding out the optimal settings was of paramount importance. Of course, each driver has his personal strengths and weaknesses, too, and it was apparent that TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s drivers, all three of whom are from Northern Europe, were better suited to the higher speeds of SS2.
Successful setup adjustments lead to speedup
When the two morning stages were completed, Tänak and Latvala brought their cars back to the service park and the team soonbegan to adjust their setups. After discussing with the drivers how they could perform with greater confidence, the engineers opted to fine-tune both the ride height and the damping force of the dampers. The cars were then sent out for SS3 and SS4, which were repeats of SS1 and SS2. On the 49-kilometer Special Stage, which had resulted in such a large time gap behind the leader in the morning, Latvala significantly increased his pace. The settings of Lappi’s car remained unchanged, yet he too felt more confident in his car; he managed to raise his speed and record the best time of SS4. Latvala placed second on this stage, just 1.7 seconds behind. Evidently, all three TOYOTA GAZOO Racing drivers could now extract the full performance from their cars.
The flying Lappi and Tänak rack up a series of stage wins
On Day Two of the rally, the Yaris WRC continued its high performance. Lappi marked the second fastest time on SS5; Tänak was second and Lappi third on SS6. On SS7,all three drivers clocked leading times, Tänak first, Lappi third, and Latvala fourth. All these results on Day Two were derived from the fine-tuning carried out at the service park the previous day In the repeat afternoon stages, Lappi recorded two fastest times. Tänak was joint-fastest alongside Lappi on the SS10—the final stage of Day Two—and rose up the overall standings from fourth to second. However, he held a gap of just 0.1 seconds to Thierry Neuville in third. Latvala, meanwhile, had run the back of his car into a tree on SS8. The damage extended to the car’s roll cage, and he was unable to compete any longer. The retirement was all the more disappointing because Latvala, too, was showing signs of improved performance on Day Two.
Tänak wins SS11—the longest of the rally—to secure second overall
Two stages took place on Day Three: SS11 which, at 55km, was the longest of the rally; and SS12, the Power Stage, which allocates bonus points to the fastest drivers. Tänak was an impressive winner of SS11, finishing a massive 12 seconds ahead of the driver in second. He commented afterwards: “I have never driven a stage of the Tour de Corse with such confidence. I was attacking almost flat out.” His stage win secured him second place in the overall standings.
Lappi, on the other hand, was in fourth overall and driving superbly. A strong result on SS11 would have given him a chance of a podium finish. The Finn went on the attack for the longest stage of the rally. He was extremely fast during the first section of the stage, recording the same time as Tänak at the first split. However, Lappi suffered a puncture shortly afterwards and was forced to change a tire. He lost almost two minutes as a result, and dropped to seventh overall. A disappointed Lappi said: “The car was great, but I caused it to puncture.” On SS12, Lappi recorded his fourth stage win of the rally with a deeply satisfying drive. He also acquired five bonus championship points, leaving him sixth in the Drivers’ Championship.
The Yaris WRC has evolved into a car that can challenge for wins even on tarmac—and yet problems remain
The 2018 Tour de Corse was held over a total of 12 stages. With Lappi winning four stages and Tänak two, the Yaris WRC demonstrated outstanding pace. However, despite placing second overall, Tänak finished a huge 31 seconds behind the winning driver—in the end, he was unable to claw back the time he lost in the morning of Day One. The Yaris WRC should have been fast enough to win the rally; the fact that its full potential could not be extracted from the very first stage was the reason for its delay. Both the team and the car have made remarkable progress since last season, yet a lot remains to be learned. The team will carefully analyze and evaluate its performance at Tour de Corse and—with one eye on August’s Rallye Deutschland, the next tarmac rally—will focus on further setup improvements to its Yaris WRC.
|1||Sebastien Ogier||Julien Ingrassia||Ford Fiesta WRC||3h26m52.7s|
|2||Ott Tänak||Martin Järveoja||Toyota Yaris WRC||+36.1s|
|3||Thierry Neuville||Nicolas Gilsoul||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+1m07.5s|
|4||Dani Sordo||Carlos del Barrio||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+2m02.6s|
|5||Elfyn Evans||Phil Mills||Ford Fiesta WRC||+2m06.1s|
|6||Esapekka Lappi||Janne Ferm||Toyota Yaris WRC||+2m33.5s|
|7||Andreas Mikkelsen||Anders Jaeger||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+2m43.4s|
|8||Jan Kopecky||Pavel Dresler||Skoda Fabia R5||+10m34.8s|
|9||Kris Meeke||Paul Nagle||Citroen C3 WRC||+10m40.5s|
|10||Yoann Bonato||Benjamin Boulloud||Citroen C3 R5||+12m26.0s|
|Retired||Jari-Matti Latvala||Miikka Anttila||Toyota Yaris WRC|