From the Service Park: Corsica
After our epic (horror film?) 35-hour journey to Ajaccio for the 2006 Corsica Rally, what do we find? Most rally people are staying round the bay in Porticcio this year. We neglected to check, so we're somewhat isolated socially-speaking. But we've already met a four-times world champion at the airport in Marseille. Tommi Makinen is over "just as a spectator, you know" having his first look at the sport this year. He says he's now got plenty to do outside the WRC and doesn't miss it. He looks just the same as when he was pedalling Mitsubishis.
What's the most dominant feature of the service park this year? No, it is not Subaru's mega new canopy. That was the star turn in Catalunya. Here cruise liners make the biggest impression. Corsica's service park is right on the seafront of Ajaccio's port. The daily ferries are massive enough but on the rally's first morning, there's a 38,000-ton liner nosing in alongside the teams. It slips away after six hours and next day is replaced by the Costa Romantica . all 52,000 tons of it. Ford supremo Phil Short says: "We all hoped it was going to stop when it came in. It was heading straight for our cars!"
David Lapworth is very visibly present on his first WRC round since the seismic Subaru team changes before Mexico. It's the first time we've seen Lappy in "civvies" for what must be 20 years. He looks relaxed enough: says he's got plenty to occupy him. He's here to talk to teams and drivers about taking part in the rally section of the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July. This year, the official charity is the Richard Burns / Michael Park Foundation. Lappy also mentions a mysterious new project: something to do with "talking to another manufacturer about entering rallying".
Great to see his always smiley face again. Despite most people staying 10 miles away, we manage to find a number of dinner companions. First night there, we are at one of our favourite haunts, Cote Port, just down from service. Ford's Mark Wilford and Georgina Baskerville and Subaru's Lucy Nell join us, together with their engineer Pierre Genon. Pierre tells some amusing stories. The reason for coming here is a starter: the terrine de Sanglier (wild boar) which is matchless. We also pay two visits to an eaterie new to us. It is Da Mamma's, up an unpromising alley off one of Ajaccio's side streets. First time, we're with the FIA's Hayley Maxfield, who recommended it. "If you don't believe me, Nini Russo's been seen eating in there so it's got to be good!" she says.
Dead right: again, the highlight is our starters, this time, goat's cheese omelettes. They're to die for. Second time around, with BF Goodrich's Herve Jothy, the "Menu Corse" is available. Mega! It means we can have the omelette followed by roast goat, a local speciality. Double tops! The only thing wrong with all these dinner dates is that they mean missing out on a visit to La Ferme, the other side of Porticcio, with freelance Anthony Peacock and the McKlein gaggle of snappers.
Peacock gives us graphic descriptions of their world class wild boar main courses! Out on the stages, we spend an illuminating couple of hours with Gwyndaf Evans's former co-driver Howard Davies. The Welshman is a Ford weather reporter here. We sit on a wall in sunshine eight kilometres into the stage and Howard tells scurrilous stories in between diligently carrying out his duties. Davies has a mordant sense of humour and has always been a fund of witty observations and tales.
The service area itself is crazily crowded when the cars are in. Corsicans are mad keen on rallying and come down to the seafront in their thousands, mixing with the rather bewildered cruise ship passengers let off for few hours to explore Ajaccio . The atmosphere is electric and fans are well catered for with attractions and food and drink outlets. On the Sunday, there's also the open-air market just across the road. That's a real cornucopia of local foods. Great! As for us, Sunday is a heavy work-load day and our lunch is a hasty bite at Ford (actually, it was v. nice).
In the evening, we find time to dine out at L'Aquarium, where front of house is still being run single-handed by the same old dear as we remember from 15 years ago! Before flying out next day we visit the Henri Toivonen memorial to pay our respects, as we've been trying to do for years. It's a simple marble slab dedicated to Henri and his co-driver Sergio Cresto. A local resident puts fresh flowers there every day and there's always an unopened bottle of Martini (Toivonen's Lancia was Martini sponsored). Half a dozen other people are there for the same reason. It's a deeply affecting moment.