Tragedy follows tragedy: The 1987 Tour de Corse

Twelve months after the deaths of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresta, the WRC's return to Corsica was another bleak weekend


Much has been made of the 1986 Tour de Corse in recent days. Here at DirtFish we debated the moment the World Rally Championship changed forever in the wake of the deaths of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto on May 2.

We’ve considered the crash itself, the move from Group B to the more production-based Group A and the ramifications for all of rallying.

But what about Corsica itself?.

This weekend 33 years ago, WRC competition returned to the French island with Toivonen’s crash 12 months earlier still uppermost in everyone’s minds. How much had things changed?

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Photo: McKlein

The competitive element had changed radically and in-line with governing body FISA’s prescribed rules. What had been a route comprising 686 competitive miles and 21 stages in three days became 384 miles over 24 stages.

Despite that drastic reduction in mileage, the appetite for the event remained. There were close to 100 starters.

In 1986, the longest stage – the 52-mile run from Liamone-Suaricchio which concluded the event – took Francois Chatriot 1h07m19s to complete in his Renault 5 Maxi Turbo. A year on and Jean Ragnotti used a considerably less pokey Renault 11 Turbo to nail the longest test, the 19 miles of Fango – Partinello, in a shade over 23 minutes.

In memory of Toivonen and Cresto, no car wore the #4 their Lancia Delta S4 had used in 1986. But the organizers did run the same Corte-Taverna test, with SS15 running through precisely the same left-hander that claimed the Finnish-American crew.

And there was another death, with co-driver Jean-Michel Argenti losing his life in an accident aboard Jean Marchini’s Peugeot 205 GTI.

More fatalities were narrowly avoided when Antoine Casabianca’s similar car went off the road on a hairpin right.

Fans packed shoulder to shoulder at the edge of the road were collected by the Peugeot, with five injured.

Among the top crews, there were no Finns present. Juha Kankkunen and Markku Alén had no desire to return to a place where their countryman had lost his life 12 months earlier, leaving Lancia to field a trio of Delta HF 4WDs for Miki Biasion, Yves Loubet and Bruno Saby.

Hannu Mikkola didn’t get the opportunity to boycott the rally when Audi – understandably – sidestepped an entry for the cumbersome 200 Quattro.

Bernard Béguin won the event in a Prodrive-entered BMW M3, marking the British firm’s arrival in world rallying’s big time with its maiden WRC success.

But for the third year in succession a competitor had landed on the island of Corsica and not returned. Even before the 1986 and ’87 tragedies, Attilio Bettega had died at wheel of a factory Lancia 037 in 1985.

There was inevitably a feeling of frustration with the Tour de Corse around that time, but with FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre at the height of his power the event in his French homeland appeared untouchable.