At the end of the opening leg of the Acropolis Rally, the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crew of Harri RovanperÃ¤/Risto PietilÃ¤inen head the team assault in sixth position. Lancer WRC05 ...
At the end of the opening leg of the Acropolis Rally, the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crew of Harri Rovanperä/Risto Pietiläinen head the team assault in sixth position. Lancer WRC05 team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido D’Amore have maintained a consistent pace and climb from an earlier 10th to eighth overall in only their second visit to Greece.
"Both crews have been consistent and done a good job", commented Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motor Sports. "Gigi, in particular, is still learning these roads and has maintained a sensible pace. It’s only the first day, but I am happy with the way the whole team has performed and hopefully we can keep this up for the rest of the weekend".
The rally got underway last night in spectacular style, the Olympic Stadium in Athens hosting the opening kilometers of action. A sell-out crowd of 70,000 were treated to plenty of sideways action in one of the calendar’s classic events, as crews had to contest the 2.4 kilometer purpose-built Tarmac stage on gravel tires.
After returning to the rally base in Lamia last night, the real action kicked off this morning, the leg taking in two identical loops of three stages covering 125.66 competitive kilometers.
Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen were fourth fastest through the super special last night, and maintained their charge in the opening stages this morning. They were sixth fastest through SS 2 but then set a blistering pace in the following stage, their joint third position elevating them to equal fourth overall alongside former double World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz.
However, the crew then lost time in the last of the morning’s three stages, the longest of the leg, and dropped to seventh. This afternoon, however, they were back on the pace and climbed to sixth in the lead Lancer WRC05.
"Things are going quite well, but the long stages (SS 4/7) were quite tough for us", said Harri back in Lamia this evening. "In the one this morning the handling went very strange in the last 8-10 kilometers because the tires went off, and during the same stage this afternoon it was like the dampers weren’t working one hundred percent. It’s difficult to know exactly what was happening, but our position is not so bad and we will keep pushing hard tomorrow".
Team-mates Gigi Galli and Guido D’Amore have been pacing themselves from the outset, the pair intent on learning the roads and understanding the conditions, being that their only outing here in 2002 ended in retirement in the first stage. By the mid-leg service today they held 10th but, as their confidence increased over the repeated stages, the Italians were able to set fifth fastest time in SS6 and then overhauled Markko Märtin in the final stage to climb into eighth overnight.
"I am quite happy because our strategy is working", said Gigi. "This morning I was quite careful but I then drove a bit more aggressively over the same stages this afternoon. For sure it was easier with the notes in the second lap, because once you have done the stages in the rally car you have a better feeling and can make small changes to the notes. We had a bit of a problem with the front brakes this morning, but I think that was my fault because I’m on them too much, again because of our lack of experience here. This afternoon we just had one spin (SS 5); we had a right rear puncture and it just took a little longer for the EMI to work. Tomorrow, our plan will stay the same and we will see what we can do".
Adding to the drivers’ comments, Principal Rally Engineer Roger Estrada said: "We have had no major technical problems. Harri is showing good pace and for the level of experience he has of this rally, Gigi is getting better and better".
In the group N category, local man Efthimios Halkias leads in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. In total Mitsubishi crews hold nine of the top 10 class positions.
The second leg of the Acropolis Rally of Greece takes the crews over another two loops of four stages covering 122.72 competitive kilometers.
News from our rivals
Sébastien Loeb has again resumed his position at the head of the leaderboard, the Frenchman overhauling Marcus Grönholm and inching into the lead in the final stage of the leg. He takes a 6.1 second advantage into the second day of competition. Carlos Sainz, in his second and last outing for Citroën this year, holds a fine third position just 14 seconds adrift of his Championship-leading team-mate. Toni Gardemeister slipped to fourth this afternoon while Mikko Hirvonen, in fifth, starred in his privately-run 2003 Focus. The Finn took the lead of the rally earlier in the day, only to drop time with a gearbox problem this afternoon. The Acropolis Rally has however already taken its toll on many of the leading crews. Roman Kresta was forced out in the first stage with a broken steering arm and Škoda has lost two of its three cars, Armin Schwarz suffering engine problems and Janne Tuohino out with clutch failure on the start line of SS 3. Subaru crews Christopher Atkinson and Stéphane Sarrazin also retired after SS 6, engine and rear suspension damage respectively forcing them onto the sidelines. Petter Solberg has had a disastrous opening leg, the Norwegian suffering handling problems this morning after losing the boot lid and rear spoiler, and then a broken rear driveshaft this afternoon. He holds 14th overnight.