Preview: Corsica make or break for title contenders

Corsica marks the start of the final dash to the line for the World Rally Championship. The result here could determine which drivers have a realistic chance over the three events that remains after this week's battle on the twists and turns of the asphalt roads of the Mediterranean island

Preview: Corsica make or break for title contenders

Marcus Gronholm leads the series going into round 10 of 14 but he is also entering a phase of events where the Peugeot driver lacks the experience of his title rivals. The Peugeot should be quick on the island but it is significant that the team has nominated Francois Delecour and the returning Giles Panizzi for its makes points squad, rather than the Flying Finn.

While Gronholm would probably settle for a solid points finish this time out, the same cannot be said of Richard Burns. The Subaru team leader has scored just three points from a possible 40 since he won in Argentina, a hard won fourth place in Cyprus his only finish in the past four events.

Reliability problems have struck the Subaru camp after a blistering start to the year and Burns knows he will have to work hard on these two asphalt events (San Remo comes two weeks after Corsica) if he is to go to Australia and the season's finale in Wales with any chance of using two of his favourite events to lift his first World title.

Subaru and Pirelli raised their game significantly in Catalunya back in the spring but both would be happier if the roads were at least damp to even out a perceived disadvantage to the Michelin-equipped teams.

The team on a roll at present is Ford. Colin McRae is really charging towards a possible second title (he last won in 1995, the year before Tommi Makinen's four-title run began) while victory in Cyprus brought a rejuvenated Carlos Sainz into the frame. Mathematically 12 drivers can still win the title but, realistically, it is now down to these four with Makinen a possible, but very distant, fifth contender.

With a record six wins to his credit in Corsica, Didier Auriol has more wins on this event than his rivals put together! However, the SEAT Cordoba has proved a difficult car to tame and, despite his claims that this might be a good event for the car, it is hard to see the Frenchman giving his Spanish team a much-needed boost before it returned from the series at the end of the season. Stranger things have happened, however...

Another team unlikely to set the world alight this week is Hyundai, albeit not for the want of trying. Kenneth Eriksson hasn't competed here in 12 years while Alister McRae's last appearance on the island was at the wheel of the early version of the Coupe kit car.

Last year's controversial winners Citroen, with Philippe Bugalski and Jesus Puras, return but with the little Saxo kit car. This is clearly not a serious bid to outgun the works cars but it is a learning exercise in preparation for next year's arrival of the Xsara T4 WRC that will contest at least four championship events.

The Corsica Rally has moved date from its usual May slot and so the weather will be unpredictable. Recently the island has enjoyed late summer sunshine but the leaves are already dropping as autumn approaches and so anything could happen.

The event marks a full year since Peugeot gave the 206WRC its series debut. It hasn't won an asphalt event yet but there is no reason to suspect it can't this time out. Where that leaves the title race, however, remains to be seen.

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