Tour de Corse: a brief history
A quick guide to the legendary Corsican rally
Posted: 18 May 2013
Over its storied 56-year history, the Tour de Course has separated the men from the boys, and occasionally the men from their cars. The route’s endless switchbacks and sheer-drop verges plane the margin of error down to the molecular, and when it goes wrong – and it does go wrong – you pay. Usually with your car, occasionally with your body, and sometimes with your life.
Even since its inception it’s been a unique challenge. The Rallye de France-Tour de Corse first ran between December 17 and 18, 1956, and of the 43 competitors that started, just 24 made the finish line. Incidentally, it was won by a Belgian female crew (Gilberte Thirion and Nadège Ferrier) driving a rear-engined Renault Dauphine. Back then, though, the course wasn’t a few stages in Ajaccio - it was an entire lap of the island.
Such was the popularity of this gently alarming, high-stakes rally that the following year its slightly re-jigged successor, the Isle of Beauty's rally, was folded into the National Grand Tourism Championship. After a several fierce battles, it was eventually won by team Altieri-Calizzi driving a Triumph TR3.
The rallies trundled on and gained local popularity, but it wasn’t until the introduction of the World Championship for Manufacturers in 1973 that it’d established its niche on the world motorsport stage - – terrifying, unforgiving, great seafood. And so it was decided, quite bizarrely, that it would became the French round of the event.
Come 1979 and the International Federation for Automotive Sports (FISA) created the World Rally Championship for Drivers, and decided that it might be nice to include the Tour de Corse in its schedule. And so, since the WRC's inception, it's become an integral part of the rallying calendar.
While the inaugural event was won by Belgians, it became a source of great national pride to keep the title in French hands. Sandro Munari, Markku Alen and Carlos Sainz won more than twenty times in total, and between 1977 and 1981 Bernard Darniche won consecutively. Didier Auriol also held on to the title six times between 1988 and 1995. The might of Colin McRae saw the French domination crumble, and Jesus Puras, Petter Solberg, and Markko Martin put a few other nationalities on the leaderboard. But then came Seb Loeb, who unsurprisingly won everything and set several course records in the process, making everyone else feel a bit bad about themselves.
But there’s an elephant in the room here. This event is also infamous for claiming lives. In fact, it has the highest fatality rate of any WRC round. Attilio Bettega, Henri Toivonen, Sergio Cresto, and Jean-Michel Argenti were killed here, which had huge ramifications on the sport. The deaths caused the end to Group B rallying – the most innovative, aggressive and technologically advanced form of the sport since its inception. Check back soon and we’ll be bringing you an exclusive gallery on the corner that killed Group B
In the meantime, click through the gallery of archive images from Tour de Corse, and then tune in to Eurosport, which is broadcasting the event - a stage of the European Rally Championship - live.