Sebastien Loeb's (Citroen) mechanics did a superb job to rebuild the wrecked rear of his car without penalty last night and he drove safely through the final day to take second. Behind Hirvonen, Toni Gardemeister (Citroen) emerged from a four-way...
Sebastien Loeb's (Citroen) mechanics did a superb job to rebuild the wrecked rear of his car without penalty last night and he drove safely through the final day to take second. Behind Hirvonen, Toni Gardemeister (Citroen) emerged from a four-way fight to comfortably claim fourth while Henning Solberg (Peugeot) just edged out Dani Sordo for fifth. Sordo dropped a minute on the opening stage when faulty spark plugs gave him engine troubles but recovered to finish just 0.8sec behind the Norwegian. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) was the day's main retirement when the Austrian rolled on the opening stage.
Seventy-one of the original 84 starters started today's final Leg. Thirty one of today's crews had retired earlier in the event. The Leg comprised four rough gravel stages in the countryside to the north and west of Athens, followed by a second trip to the Olympic stadium Superspecial. Dry and sunny all day. The temperature ranged between 26 C in the morning to an afternoon high of 36 C.
1. Kronos Total Citroen
At the end of the rough and rocky stages, Kronos Racing finishes once more with all three Citroen Xsaras in the points. Thanks to Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, who finished second, and Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio, who were eighth the Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team will spend the two-month summer break leading both the drivers and manufacturers championships. Having swept the road clean at the start of the rally, Seb dropped 35 seconds on Friday. With a better set-up for the conditions he took second place and reduced the gap to the leader to 25 seconds, before a puncture on Saturday evening obliged him to call a ceasefire and settle for the eight points that came with second place.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: " It was a difficult rally " concluded the World Championship leader. " What with sweeping the road clean, getting a puncture and a tricky journey back to service, I'm very happy to come away with eight points for second place. Once more, I take my hat off to the entire Kronos team for putting my Xsara back into shape on Saturday night. Marcus was very quick, but nonetheless we managed to get some time back off him on Saturday. From Germany onwards, I know he'll be right there. It will be a very close fight, as always, but those tight battles with him are always the best ones--
Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: Xevi Pons will probably be able to challenge for the world puncture record, having collected them throughout the event. Thankfully he was prevented from losing too much time by BFGoodrich's anti-deflation mousse, which holds up the tyre if any air escapes. " I can't hide the fact that I am personally a bit disappointed said Xevi openly. " I expected to be a bit quicker on this terrain that we were all discovering for the first time. As well as that -- or perhaps because of that -- I didn't really enjoy myself here. It's not nice to hear the car taking all those impacts, to be constantly on edge and not to be able to drive in a relaxed way. Luckily I succeeded in my main objective, which was to bring some manufacturer points to the team. "
2. OMV-Peugeot Norway
The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team finished the "bp ultimate Acropolis Rally of Greece" with a top result. Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud (Nor) reached fifth place after 355,62 special stage kilometres. Beside four points in the driver-WRC this also means five points in the manufacture ranking. The Austrian OMV Team was less lucky. Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor overturned on the first special stage of the last day. Fortunately they remained unhurt, but couldn't take up the rally again and therefore finished in 17th place in the overall ranking in the context of the SupeRally regulation.
Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: For Manfred Stohl the Acropolis Rally ended prematurely. After the OMV driver had finished the second day in fifth place, problems arose at the final service on Saturday. The exchange of the exhaust manifold on the Peugeot 307 WRC lasted nine minutes longer than the permitted repair time-frame of 45 minutes. Therefore Stohl received a 1:30-minutes time penalty and dropped back to seventh place. Troubles continued for the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team on the morning of the final day. The car started to lose oil on the connection stage to the first special stage. Even though the leak was sealed the problem became acute once again after a few kilometres at racing speed. The 33-year-old Austrian switched to the emergency program. Stohl: "This causes quite a loss of engine power. We basically ambled through the stage. In a left turn I was too far on the inside and we overturned three times down the embankment. It wasn't too bad but the car was unsteerable, of course. A sad ending to a rally that was filled with a lot of minor problems."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: After a heart-stopping finale on the super stage in the Olympic Stadium of Athens, his lead on Daniel Sordo (Spa/Citroen) was only 0,8 seconds. Thereby Solberg also repeated his best result this season in Mexico. In an internal brothers-duel he remained two places ahead of Subaru works driver Petter Solberg. Solberg: "In the end I'm very happy about this result, even though we had planned to attack once again on the last day in order to reach fourth place. We managed to overtake Sordo but couldn't ward off Gardemeister's attack. This is also due to the fact that we were rather cautious in the end. Following the bad luck in Argentina and Sardinia I didn't want to put this good result at stake." Thus, with currently eleven points to their account, the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team Henning Solberg moved up from eleventh to seventh place in the World Championship driver ranking.
BP-Ford World Rally Team won its third rally of the season today when Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen took an emphatic victory on the gruelling Acropolis Rally of Greece. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car led for almost the entire four-day event, excelling in the toughest conditions experienced in the FIA World Rally Championship for many years. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen secured a second straight podium with third in a similar Focus RS. It was the fifth victory for the Focus in Greece in seven years on a rally that is acknowledged as the toughest in the calendar. It was Gronholm's 21st world rally success and strengthens his grip on second in the drivers' standings while Hirvonen's podium promoted him to fourth. BP-Ford remains second in the manufacturers' championship.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "It's great to experience the winning feeling again," said Gronholm. "We have been on the pace all year but had some bad luck, but now we are back on the top step of the podium. It's satisfying to win such a tough rally. The Focus was strong and fast all the way through and that was down to the hard work during our test. It was terribly rough and I could never drive with total confidence because I knew how easy it was to damage the car on the rocks. "BFGoodrich's tyres were strong on such a demanding rally and when we had a puncture the mousse worked perfectly. I could not believe that the tyres withstood the impact from some rocks. The Focus has huge potential and I hope we can show that more over the next few rallies. I think we can push for victory everywhere during the second half of the season," he added.
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen established himself in fourth on the opening morning and climbed to third yesterday. With no pressure from his rivals, he cruised through the final leg. The 25-year-old Finn survived a scare when a broken centre differential meant he had to tackle the final test in second gear. "That's two podiums in a row and that is where I should be," said Hirvonen. "I hope my first win is not too far away. I saw on Friday that I could not match Marcus' pace so I just watched the split times in the stages and drove accordingly. I avoided problems all weekend and the team has done a fantastic job. It was really difficult today because it was too rough and not nice to drive as I was just trying to avoid the rocks. I'm really confident now for the rest of the season. My car is reliable and strong and I hope we can deliver more podiums."
4. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson fought off food poisoning to finish the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, arguably the FIA World Rally Championship's toughest event, in tenth place after a strong and consistent run through the order where his M-Sport-run Ford Focus RS ran faultlessly to take two manufacturer points. Harsh gravel stages littered with rocks which Wilson described as being as big as footballs characterised the 336km of competitive distance around the Greek capital of Athens with the rally starting and finishing with a Super Special in front of tens of thousands of spectators in the Olympic stadium built for the 2004 games. Whilst Wilson's run was trouble-free the same could not be said for the second Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Focus RS with the Finnish crew of Kosti Katajamaki and Timo Alanne. The first day saw the duo in a fine 12th position despite having to battle through a stage with no power steering in ambient heat in excess of 30 degrees. On the second day an off over rocks in the morning damaged their gearbox which failed on the final stage. Sunday saw the pair break two track rod ends and have to park their car on the second stage of the day.
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's good to get to the end of the rally. We had a drama before the end of the penultimate stage with the steering arm and we had to change it, but that was the only mechanical problem we've had. The car took a real battering so it was good to be at the end and with manufacturer points too. Compared to the dramas of the last event in Sardinia, mechanically it has been a dream come true. It's been a tough old rally, we knew after the recce it would be a tough rally and it certainly lived up to its reputation."
Kosti Katajamaki/Timo Alanne: "In the first stage this morning we had a puncture. The mousse worked so we could keep on driving but then the tyre exploded and we were driving on the rim which eventually broke the steering arm which we had to stop and change in the stage. We continued and everything was okay until the second stage. We came over a jump and landed badly off the road and the steering broke again. We were lucky to stay on all four wheels and be able to stop safely. It has been my worse rally ever.
5. 555 Subaru
Petter Solberg finished the Acropolis Rally of Greece with a flourish by winning every gravel stage of the Leg. The Norwegian proved the speed of his Impreza WRC2006 in the most difficult stage conditions seen so far this year. But even Solberg's best efforts weren't enough to make up for the time lost through no fault of his own on Saturday and he ended the rally seventh overall. Chris Atkinson also had a mountain to climb after his own problems earlier in the rally. The Australian drove well throughout the day and moved up two places to finish eleventh.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: I'm really disappointed as I just did not deserve this luck this weekend. Despite the accident yesterday I've got to say that we have seen some very good improvements in the car and it looks positive. We need to take the positive points and put them into a package and I know we can get there. The team are going to be busy all through the summer but we know where we can improve and we are not going to give up. We'll be back."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's been an unbelievably tough weekend. Glenn and I didn't really make any mistakes and I'm happy with how I drove which makes it all the more frustrating that instead of a podium we are not in the top ten. I'm looking forward to having a clean run through a rally, however we need to work together and sort out the problems we encountered."
6. Red Bull-Skoda Team
For Red Bull Skoda the negative aspects outweighed the positive ones. Raimund Baumschlager and Armin Schwarz give their summary as team representatives: "The only positive aspect of this WRC event was that we brought both Fabia WRCs to the finish, even though we had no mechanical issues to speak of. We mainly worked on the handling of the cars here, changed a lot of parts, but that didn't lead to the desired effect. It was worse for Harri, there's still something wrong with the entire package, for Andreas it was a little bit better. We need to use the summer break until Germany to develop new parts and test them beforehand. Kudos to our drivers and the entire team for their efforts."
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "I still have a certain limit while driving right now which I can't transgress yet because of my car setup. We changed a lot, but haven't found the settings that would allow me to bring home some points for the drivers' championship. So we need to continue to work together to improve this situation as fast as possible. It was a tough rally by the way, too many rocks led to numerous tyre failures."
Andreas Aigner/Klaus Wicha: "Our car tipped over and on its side in a hairpin corner on the first stage. Klaus and I couldn't put the Fabia back on its wheels. Unfortunately there were no spectators at hand, so we had to wait for three minutes before three fans came to the rescue and enabled us to continue. Apart from that I was very satisfied with my performance in this rally. The flu bothered me, as did the frequent tyre failures and having to run 60 kilometres on the rim yesterday. Today I just missed a top ten time on two stages as 11th fastest, but I want to build up on these results in the future. I was very happy with the Fabia WRC, the car was virtually problem-free."