In terms of distance covered, little has changed between the last time the FIA WRC visited Corsica in 2008 and this week’s programme.
Seven years ago, the total route length was 1,094 kilometres, 359 of which were against-the-clock. This time, competitors face 987.69km behind the wheel, with 332km divided into nine special stages.
What has changed, of course, is the fact that crews won’t spend two consecutive nights in the same hotel as the 58th edition travels from overnights in Ajaccio, Bastia and Porto Vecchio, back to Ajaccio.
The organisers are particularly proud of this evolution which they also did their best to implement during the event’s spell as a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, then the European Rally Championship, from 2011 to 2014.
Even so, we are a long way off the numbing marathons of the early 1980s.
From 1979 until 1986, the menu featured more than 1,000km of stages, with a peak in 1982 when competitive action totalled 1,176km over three days (like this week’s duration). That’s three-and-a-half times more than what this year’s stars face!
The event was first organised in 1956, but the principle of ‘special stages’ was only introduced in 1963. By 1973, year of the inaugural WRC, the total competitive distance had edged up to 372km over two legs, although the competition was spiced up by tight timing for the liaison sections – often run in appalling autumn conditions – which led to heavy road penalties.
Over the ensuing years, the competitive distance gradually doubled before a big change in 1979 when it jumped sharply to 1,129km (22 stages, 19 different!) over two legs (Ajaccio-Bastia and Bastia-Ajaccio) spanning two nights.
The event’s character changed again in 1981 (1,144km/24 stages) when the Tour de Corse switched to a mid-spring slot. The 1982 rally – the longest ever – innovated with the addition of a third leg, one per day. Only the last leg’s stages totalled less than 300km and the overall time of winner Jean Ragnotti (Renault/Michelin) exceeded 14 hours (Loeb, 2008: 3h42m)!
The figure continued to surpass 1,100km until 1987 (619km) when it was practically halved as part of the measures introduced for all WRC rounds in the aftermath of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto’s tragic deaths during the 1986 Tour de Corse. It was that accident which brought about the outlawing of Group B cars.
After eight editions when competitive distances totalled between 555km and 626km, the amount of against-the-clock action began a steady downward trend, dipping to as low as 341.68km in 2005.
This year’s rally establishes a new ‘record’ (332.57km), despite the old-school Ajaccio/Bastia/Porto Vecchio/Ajaccio itinerary.