FIA Junior World Championship Boulder-strewn mountain tracks and searing temperatures which ideally suit nothing more than lying on a beach are the trademark challenges which Ford Rallye Sport's drivers must face on Greece's Acropolis Rally (13...
FIA Junior World Championship
Boulder-strewn mountain tracks and searing temperatures which ideally suit nothing more than lying on a beach are the trademark challenges which Ford Rallye Sport's drivers must face on Greece's Acropolis Rally (13 - 16 June).
High summer in Greece brings air temperatures of almost 40*C, in-car temperatures peak at more than 60*C and the punishment inflicted on cars by rocks make the Acropolis a harsh test of reliability for drivers, cars and team mechanics who have the task of repairing any damage caused by the unforgiving terrain.
The junior series reaches its midpoint with the first gravel event of the season and the toughest challenge of the six-rally championship. Ford's Francois Duval heads the points table and must re-acclimatise to a Puma after his sensational performance in a four-wheel drive Focus World Rally Car in Cyprus in which the Belgian briefly led the rally. The category winner in Monte Carlo holds a one point lead and will again aim to set the pace. Sweden's Daniel Carlsson, seventh in the standings, is a loose surface expert and will relish gravel roads after two asphalt rallies.
A test session in Spain three weeks ago confirmed the Puma's speed and reliability on rocky tracks. The latter will be particularly important as the passage of the World Rally Cars ahead will leave the roads littered with boulders, especially on stages that are used twice, and a high retirement rate is forecast.
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The heat places huge demands on drivers and co-drivers and physical fitness is of paramount importance here more than on any other rally. Team doctor Simon Morris said a good level of background fitness was vital for drivers to maintain peak performance in such extreme conditions for three days.
"The fitter a driver, the longer he will delay the effects of the heat," he said. "Regular showering at the service parks will help maintain a stable body temperature as well as keep drivers mentally alert. Diet and fluid intake is also crucial. A balanced diet will ensure most nutrients are taken on board through eating. But we give the drivers special energy drinks to give them additional salts and they will drink about 15 litres a day to replace the fluid lost through sweat and to maintain body weight. That's about three times the normal intake."
Athens' Zappion Palace, in the heart of the city, once again hosts the ceremonial start on Thursday evening. However, the rally covers traditional territory to the north-west, this year overnighting each day at the single service park of Lilea - Parnassos, near Amfissa. The route circles around the Parnassos mountains, but avoids the stages to the south at Stiri and Livadia. The second day threatens to be the toughest, containing 158.76km of competition although the event's penultimate test offers little opportunity to ease off as it is the longest of the rally at more than 37km. It finishes in Itea after 391.50km of competition in a route of 1197.85km.