WRC

Solberg on top in Acropolis Rally

Solberg on top in Acropolis Rally

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.

Petter Solberg.
Photo by Subaru World Rally Team.
You know it's hard work to keep adjusting the pace to keep position, but the team kept the split times coming in and everything worked perfectly today - there were no problems at all," Solberg explained. "I must say that the car is incredible, and the tyres, the mechanics, everyone in the team is working so well I can't thank them enough and it seems that for now anything is possible."

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."

S?bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
Loeb spent the final day of the event battling with Peugeot driver Harri Rovanpera, eventually pulling out a gap of 9.9 seconds to the Finn, thanks to four wins in the final day's six stages.

"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.

Petter Solberg and Phil Mills.
Photo by Subaru World Rally Team.
Solberg took only a singular stage victory on the final leg of the rally, but was consistently in the top three on each stage. Having claimed five stages on the first day, his total was still an impressive nine out of 22.

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.

Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen.
Photo by Marlboro Peugeot Total.
In an experiment by FIA and WRC, the Acropolis Rally trialed a SuperRally-style system whereby drivers who had to retire were able to continue the following day, albeit without being able to count in the official standings or score points.

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.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team