Monday, October 24, 2005

Rallye de France

Edit 2005-10-28: Ok, finally got around to adding a write-up to go with the photos...

I stayed in Aix-en-Provence after the SCAD-Lacoste day trip to leave for Corsica to watch part of the World Rally Championship Rallye de France / Tour de Corse. I had reservations for the overnight ferries there and back Friday and Saturday from Marseille, so I took the train from Aix down to Marseille. Unfortunately, this was the one day trip that they didn't make plans to make a stop afterward at the train station, but hey, whatever. It wasn't too bad of a walk from Cézanne's studio. When I got to Marseille, I had to walk through kind of a bad part of town, where all the homeless people were hanging out with trash all over the place, but I guess the bad parts of town in Europe still aren't nearly as dangerous as the same kind of places back in the States. Anyway I found the ferry without too much trouble. It was a nice ride; the ferry is more like a cruise ship with a huge garage bay for cars. The base fare for the ferry doesn't even include a seat, which I wasn't particularly relishing on a 10+ hour overnight ride, but you can also pay 7 € for a comfy armchair, and increasing prices for increasingly nicer cabins. I chose to pay a 12 € supplement for a bed in a four-bunk shared room, which I recommend as the best deal for anyone else choosing to travel by ferry, unless you want the privacy of a non-shared room (but you'll pay for the added comfort, rest assured.) The room was comfy enough, certainly far roomier than the overnight trains I've experienced.

We arrived at 7 AM in Ajaccio on Corsica, and I stepped off the ferry surrounded by the trucks from all the rally teams. Apparently the service area is there stretched out along the port, I guess it's convenient and has plenty of space. I had a quick breakfast at a café then went to go find my rental car that I had reserved. I ended up with a Peugeot 307 turbo diesel, which was a lot more fun to drive than I was expecting. The engine was powerful enough, not the punch-in-the-chest throw-you-back-in-your-seat horsepower of my Subaru WRX, but it had gobs of torque everywhere in the tachometer, and the steering was very precise (perhaps even more so than my WRX, now that it's clocked over 70,000 miles on the original and now very tired suspension.) I was originally going to watch the first few cars on special stage 5 then high-tail it over to SS6 and stay around there for SS8, but I was running late so I decided not to chance it and go straight to 6. The whole experience was not much different than spectating a rally in the US; drive 45 minutes out to some small cow-town, then walk half a mile into the woods and wait an hour or two for a bunch of cars to come by. The age/race demographics of the spectators looked a lot like US rally fans, mostly twenty-something local French guys, a few thirty-something guys with their families, even a few rabid packs of Italians and Spanish fanatics that kinda reminded me of the Polish and Irish contingents back in the States. The cars didn't seem that much faster than the top US cars/drivers. Maybe a few seconds faster over several miles; but you're not going to notice that watching them come through 2 corners. Some of the privateer WRC and Super 1600 drivers attacked the corners more aggressively than the factory WRC cars; maybe they weren't as fast but they looked like they were wringing a little more out of the cars. Well, Sebastian Loeb (Citroën) looked (and was) fast; he set a record by being the first driver to ever set fastest time on every single stage in a World Rally (I picked a good one to attend!) The whole experience was not very different from a US rally, other than the tarmac surface, but then there are some tarmac stages in the US.

The real difference was the media circus spectacle that was the service area; it was unreal how much these factory teams spend on rally. I thought that in the US, Subaru and especially Mitsubishi were spending a lot on their team, but that was petty lunch money in comparison to the WRC teams. Even seeing the coverage on Speed, I was overwhelmed at the setups they brought with them. Every team built essentially a small self-sufficient village, complete with a restaurant for their crew. Not a little kiosk with a couple picnic tables, mind you, I'm talking a 200-seat enclosed building with bar and table service. BP Ford looked like they were outlaying the most money this year, with 4 cars, but it was hard to judge amidst the sea of tractor trailers. It makes me kinda wish I had skipped the second stage and just come back to watch the activity there, since that's what really made the WRC what it was compared to even the US national rallies (most of the show was over by the time I took my rental car back to the airport and took the bus back into town to catch the ferry.) Unfortunately I'm used to being a little more included in the US, either as a competitor or service crew or snagging the occasional press pass, so it was a little frustrating to be treated like another annoying spectator with a wall between us and them, but hey, whatever. Some other time, maybe I could go find the bars where everyone was hanging out afterward and swap war stories, but that's for another time I guess.

All in all, a fun experience, would have liked to stay longer but my schedule wouldn't allow it. One year I'll make it to a full rally, the Rally of Mexico looks great and cheap, and I've got my eye on the Rally New Zealand as well...

I got progressively sicker throughout the weekend, coming back on Sunday morning was almost an endurance marathon...I discovered, to my dismay, that there are no more trains going into Apt. By this time I was feeling poorly and in no mood to figure out another nearby train stop then a bus toward Lacoste, so I just took the TGV back to Avignon and rode the bus to Lumieres like the previous weekend. Normally I would walk the last few kilometers, but I really wasn't feeling well so I called my animation professor who drove down to pick me up and took me back to Lacoste (in time for Sunday morning brunch!)

Taverna, Corsica, the town where I watched stage six of the Rallye de France

One of the many helicopters flying around overhead; I think this was the "official" one

Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietilainen (Mitsubishi); Rallye de France

(?) Dani Sola / Xavier Amigo (BP Ford); Rallye de France

Stephane Sarrazin / Denis Giraudet (Subaru); Rallye de France

Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (Citroën); Rallye de France

José Micheli / Marina Mattei (Toyota Corolla); Rallye de France

The apparently now-abandoned Café Floride (Florida) in Taverna, Corsica

Spectators wait for the start of special stage 8; Rallye de France

A pretty sky; Rallye de France

Xavier Pons / Carlos Del Barrio (OMV Ford); Rallye de France

(?) (BP Ford); Rallye de France

Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (Subaru); Rallye de France

Overnight parc fermé at the Ajaccio port; Rallye de France

"Temporary" restaurant set up by the BP Ford team


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