Defending world rally champion Petter Solberg claimed his second victory of the year in the grueling Acropolis Rally, taking the spoils with a clear 18.4-second margin to second-placed Citroen of Sebastien Loeb, in spite of a 30-second ...
Defending world rally champion Petter Solberg claimed his second victory of the year in the grueling Acropolis Rally, taking the spoils with a clear 18.4-second margin to second-placed Citroen of Sebastien Loeb, in spite of a 30-second penalty.
The penalty was lodged against Solberg for missing mud flaps. This was the second penalty in two rallies for a infraction that doesn't impact performance, as Marcus Gronholm's victory was denied in the Rally of Cyprus due to a non-homologated water pump. While the infraction was trivial, 30 seconds was a tiny penalty compared to Gronholm's disqualification.
"The penalty didn't really affect me much, last night when I heard the decision I have to say I was a bit fed up," Solberg related. "When I woke up this morning I just laughed, it just seemed like a joke."
"It was a fine and exciting race," Loeb confirmed, happy to have finished second. "We were able to climb back up because the car was perfect -- it was far from easy, after spending the first day sweeping the way."
"I didn't have a good feeling with the suspension over the bumps yesterday, and this morning was a little bit the same," Rovanpera reflected. "The most important thing though is that the car is both reliable and fast, and we clearly have the pace to run at the front."
Solberg, on the other hand, started the day with a 30-second buffer to both Loeb and Rovanpera, and the veteran Subaru pilot was able to avoid the ragged edge, instead focusing on keeping his car on the road and on course for a victory.
The only threat to Solberg's victory march evaporated early, after Peugeot's ace driver, Marcus Gronholm, lost an early lead to a spin on SS4. Gronholm followed the spin with another, and was then hurt by a poor tire choice on SS9, leaving him behind Rovanpera and Francois Duval, over a minute adrift, after the first leg. A slide into a large rock on SS12 finished Gronholm's rally, but by then Solberg was already far ahead.
Duval, driving a Ford Focus, was no match for Solberg, and also lost out to Loeb in the course of the second. However, the young Belgian was still fast enough to claim fourth place at the finish.
Gronholm and Ford ace Markko Martin, who ran off the road and into a deep ditch on SS3, both were among the drivers back on course on the final day. Not scoring points, but gaining useful test mileage on their cars.
Will this turn into a points-paying scenario in 2005? Gentlemen, place your bets.