Villagra victorious in final day Acropolis battle Munchi's Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra equalled his best ever FIA World Rally Championship performance with a fantastic fourth place at the Acropolis Rally of Greece, the seventh round of...
Villagra victorious in final day Acropolis battle
Munchi's Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra equalled his best ever FIA World Rally Championship performance with a fantastic fourth place at the Acropolis Rally of Greece, the seventh round of the championship. The Argentine driver thrilled fans as his battle with Citroen Junior driver Conrad Rautenbach for fourth place came right down to the last stage of the event.
The seven-time Argentine champion put the disappointment of Rally d'Italia Sardegna, where he and co-driver Jorge Perez Companc failed to finish, behind him as he produced a virtually flawless performance on his way to fourth place.
Villagra, with Jose Diaz taking over Jorge Perez Companc's job in the co-driver's seat, had a steady start to the rally on Friday morning as the crews made their way through 119.37kms of classic Acropolis Rally stages to the north of Rally HQ in Loutraki. With rough, rocky roads climbing high into the Parnassus mountains, avoiding damage to the car was paramount and Villagra used all of his knowledge to avoid the pitfalls that caught out other drivers.
He lost a few seconds on the slippery SS4 Bauxites, sliding off at a hairpin. But a stunning time on the final stage of day one, the 23.76km SS6 Thiva, moved him up to seventh place overall giving him excellent road position going into the tricky stages on day two.
Day two featured three new stages for the Acropolis Rally with the drivers facing two passes over the loop to the south-west of Service Park in Peloponnese region. While the front-runners were slowed as they cleared the loose gravel, those coming after were tested by the large rocks on the stages.
Villagra posted consistent top-ten times on the morning loop avoiding any major problems but again showed some good pace in the afternoon as he tussled for position with Rautenbach. A fifth place on SS11 Ghymno moved him up to fifth place overall and boosted his chase to equal his best ever WRC finish on the final day.
The fight for position with Rautenbach continued on day three. Mechanical problems for Evgeny Novikov moved Villagra up to fourth early on, but Zimbabwean Rautenbach was hot on his heels and by the midway point of the day had closed the gap to just 0.9 seconds.
The cancellation of the penultimate stage of the rally meant that everything would be decided on the second pass over the 33km Aghii Teordori test and Villagra prevailed, preserving his tyres well on the abrasive roads to edge out Rautenbach by 11.5 seconds.
Villagra remains in eighth place in the drivers' standings but is now just one place behind Matthew Wilson and has already exceeded his points total for the whole of last season.
Meanwhile former Munchi's Ford driver and team sponsor Luis Perez Companc was in action in another classic motorsport event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving a Ferrari F430 GT for the AF Corse team, Companc and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni and Matias Russo finished 26th overall.
Other rally news
BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver Mikko Hirvonen closed the gap on championship leader Sebastien Loeb taking his first victory of the year. It was a double-celebration for Ford as Jari-Matti Latvala took third place to put the team firmly back in the running for the manufacturers' title. Loeb's challenge came to a halt on Saturday morning as he crashed out of SS7.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg both made up for problems early on in the event with a stunning performance on the final day both grabbing stage victories on day three.
The Citroen Junior team's young drivers posted some excellent times over the weekend with Sebastien Ogier finishing the rally in an impressive second place and Conrad Rautenbach a little further back in fifth. But Petter Solberg experienced a suspension failure on day two which ended his rally as he chased a podium finish.
Munchi's Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra said:
"It's fantastic to get another fourth place to add to the one from my home rally in Argentina. We had to work really hard for this one but it's a special feeling to finish fourth on this classic event. The stages here were very tough and also very difficult, especially the ones on Saturday. We spent most of the first day getting a diff setting that we were happy with as I wanted to work on getting more traction. There are lots of sections with loose gravel and bedrock and it's important to have good traction and to think about preserving the tyres through the long stages.
"The second pass over the stages was difficult and we had to be clever to know where to push and where to back off. In some places the speed of the stages changes a lot and it's hard to find a nice flow and to concentrate. The heat has made it difficult but we have been in a good fight with Conrad and that has helped to push us on. We have had a few good results on some of the last rallies and now we have a break until Finland."