Jussi Valimaki and Tero Gardemeister upheld honours for the Hyundai World Rally Team on the 50th Acropolis Rally despite a difficult start for Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred who were forced into retirement on the first day. On...
Jussi Valimaki and Tero Gardemeister upheld honours for the Hyundai World Rally Team on the 50th Acropolis Rally despite a difficult start for Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred who were forced into retirement on the first day.
On only their third outing in a Hyundai Accent WRC", the team's third nominated crew drove confidently throughout, to end the day in 14th position overall. Ahead of them in 11th place overall but not challenging for manufacturer points is team rookie Manfred Stohl and co-driver Ilka Minor, driving an OMV-sponsored works-supported Accent for the very first time.
The Acropolis Rally is arguably the toughest event in the FIA World Rally Championship. The roads are very rough, are littered with rocks and with ambient temperatures around 30°C, cockpit temperatures have been known to reach 45°C. The Jubilee edition of the Greek event has lived up to expectations and few crews have escaped problems caused by the conditions.
Hyundai privateers Jussi Välimäki and Tero Gardemeister, had an excellent drive on leg one. They steadily worked their way up the leaderboard setting stage times just outside the top ten and although Jussi pushed as hard as he dared, the crew were conscious of taking care of their Accent WRC" and a mature approach proved to be the best plan.
"On the last few stages we had a differential problem and going in and out of corners was very difficult as you don't know what the car is going to do or if it's going to work or not," explained Jussi. "I am confident my approach will work well for tomorrow - I'm not going to take any big risks but I will push as hard as possible without taking those risks."
When asked if he felt pressure from the responsibility of taking points for the team, Jussi added: "My aim is to enjoy driving, to enjoy the rally and to get some points for Hyundai. For the last 10 years I have been running my own business and rallying - you can't throw too much pressure at me! In fact, I am enjoying the responsibility- it's a good thought!"
Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer saw bad luck come their way when they were sidelined with a lack of engine compression on the opening stage of the day. Armin commented: "We had no indication of any problems until the engine started to slow, slow, slow. It was clear we had no compression so we stopped and when I opened the bonnet I could see the fan belt and looking closer I could see the cam belt which were broken. There was no big impact that I recall but obviously on these stages you can always hear bang, bang because they are rough so we must have hit something."
Team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets also saw their rally come to a premature end when the rough roads took their toll on his suspension. Freddy explained: "About 3-4km into stage one I heard a big bang and almost immediately flames came from under the bonnet. I thought either a hose had broken or the turbo had gone so we stopped to put out the fire. I could see there was a severed oil pipe from the shock absorber reservoir and after stage two I could tell that the suspension was coming loose. I would love to have kept going but the most likely result would have been us having to stop in the next stage with far more damage. We couldn't properly relocate the suspension arm or stop it moving and there was no point going into SS3. I'm very disappointed because otherwise the car felt good over the first few kilometres and after the last two events, I really wanted to have a good rally here in Greece."
Surprising almost everyone but himself, Manfred Stohl quickly settled into a good rhythm with the Hyundai and was quickly setting competitive times despite his lack of experience with the car. But Manfred has plenty of experience of world championship rallies, including Acropolis.
He said: "I enjoyed my first full day in the Accent and it was better than I had hoped for. I'm very happy with the way the car responds to my driving style and it is doing exactly what I want it to do. We had no big problems and I will approach tomorrow in the same way to make sure I get the mileage and as much understanding as possible. My finishing position is a second priority. I am confident fort he stages tomorrow and I think I can continue as today."
News from our rivals
The opening leg saw 26 retirements, almost a third of the original number of starters. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) suffered with engine failure only 11km into SS1; Jusso Pykalisto (Peugeot) rolled on SS3 and retired; Francois Duval (Ford) also went off the road into retirement and his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen could not continue after wheel nuts sheared resulting in the rear left wheel falling off; a failed turbo only 10km before service after SS5 stopped Toni Gardemeister's rally and Marcus Gronholm retired with no fuel pressure only 6km before the final service of the day. Petter Solberg and Tommi Makinen (both Subaru) dropped time stalling on occasion; Richard Burns (Peugeot) was plagued with gearbox problems for the latter part of the day; Colin McRae (Citroën) faltered on the start line of SS2 and incurred a 50 second penalty and Francois Duval, Tommi Makinen, Toni Gardemeister and Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) all dropped valuable seconds spinning in stages.
Markko Martin (Ford) led the rally from SS2 and has been closely challenged by the Peugeot of Harri Rovanpera in second. Petter Solberg (Subaru) who stepped up his pace on the last few stages has worked his way from eighth to third overall, and Carlos Sainz (Citroën) and Tommi Makinen (Subaru) lie in fourth and fifth respectively.
The second day is the longest of the event taking crews further south to the roads around Mt. Parnassos covering 148 competitive kilometres. Most stages are repeated or are repeats of those on leg one and the day ends with a second run of the superspecial. Crews reach parc ferme at 19:55.