Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer prepare to head to Greece as round six of the FIA World Rally Championship returns to Europe for the first of two hot gravel events, the Jubilee edition of ...
Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer prepare to head to Greece as round six of the FIA World Rally Championship returns to Europe for the first of two hot gravel events, the Jubilee edition of Acropolis Rally, running from 5-8 June.
It is a rally renowned for being hot, rough and tough on all parties involved - cars, crews and team mechanics -- but it is still, for many, one of the highlights of the calendar. Set in the height of Greek summer, ambient temperatures can be expected to exceed 40C with in-car temperatures reported to have been up to 60C in previous years. Attrition rate is high as many cars fall prey to the demanding terrain and conditions but for those with strength, reliability and durability, it can be rewarding.
The Hyundai World Rally Team has performed well on the Greek mountains in previous years. Freddy Loix is a fan of the rally and 2002 saw an excellent performance, including setting a fastest stage time on leg one and although the Belgian crew ended the leg in second overall, they retired on the third day while lying in fourth. Talking favourably about the event Freddy said: "This rally is physically hard and I like a challenge. We have some good results from the past and the Hyundai can go quite well there."
As the rally is set in the middle of summer, the heat can be of a concern. "The heat is fine if you are physically fit," comments Freddy. "I do a lot of exercise and I always take my bike into the mountains in the middle of the day to train in as warm conditions as possible. The heat takes a lot out of you so if you are physically and mentally fit it is a bit easier to deal with. You also drink a lot more but my main preparation is before the rally."
Thinking more about the workings of his Accent WRC", Freddy added: "Of course this is a rough rally. On some of the stages we haven't used for a few years I think the repeat runs could be cleaner, but you get a lot of big rocks that come through the surface which makes it more hard for the car, especially the suspension and tyre wear."
"I am hoping we will be able to find a set-up to make the tyre wear less because even though we can use two spares, you don't want to carry the weight around with you so it's better to be able to make do with only one," continued the 32-year-old Belgian.
As with all World Rally Championship events, the Acropolis Rally has made changes to it's itinerary to accommodate a single service area, which this year will be in Lamia, 218km northwest of the capital city of Athens. As a result, new stages will feature on the 2003 itinerary which can even out the playing field a little.
Armin Schwarz, who scored points for Hyundai last year in Greece, explains how this can be beneficial: "As rallies are becoming more centralised we have been seeing a few new stages added. If we look back to other rallies where we've had new stages that everybody is doing for the first time, the Hyundai has always gone quite well and our times have been much closer to other teams. Things are evened out as nobody has the advantage of experience which can be a nice change."
"We all know Greece is a very rough event but it is easy to run into problems as it's such a big challenge for the team, car and driver," continued Armin. "But it is one of my favourites but because it is so rough and difficult you need to use tactics, otherwise you won't survive without problems, and that I quite enjoy."
Hyundai privateer Jussi Valimaki is also contesting Acropolis Rally and will be nominated to score manufacturer points.
Sven Smeets, co-driver to Freddy Loix, explains some of the key issues that need to be considered for the Acropolis Rally: "There are a few things we have to think about for this rally. This year we have some new stages. In fact, the third day is all new. In 1995 I remember we had some stages in this area and it is really tough and very hard on the car with big holes, lots of rocks and in the past a lot of cars retired there!
"In general the stages are a mix of twisty to medium fast. Some clean very well (SS10/14 Bauxites) and when you are running a bit behind you can get quite a clean run. But the repeats can be rough. Lots of ruts are created and in the ruts are big rocks which are quite hard. If there has been rain over winter, which this year I think there has, the roads can be a bit damaged but we have to wait until the recce to find out.
"The heat can cause all sorts of problems. A rally car gets hot at the best of times and in Greece it gets even hotter and the air that the car is taking in is hot to start with. All the oils and fluids have a much harder job of cooling if it's already 38C outside as the whole car is very warm. In Sweden the heat of the car can be quite nice but in Greece absolutely everything gets warm -- it just breathes heat.
"Now Safari is not in the championship, Greece is the only rally this year that we are allowed to use two spare tyres. Even though Michelin's mousse is very good, you still get flat tyres because there are so many rocks. The tyres and the mousse heats up and the pressure gets so high that it can kill the tyre. But ideally you don't want to have to carry two spare tyres - if you consider you have the wheel rim, the tyre and mousse, you're carrying about an extra 20kg around. Ideally you want to be able to have a set-up that keeps tyre wear to as low a level as possible so you can plan a group stages and cover them using only one spare to help conserve them.
"The last thing is the effect the heat has on us, the drivers. On a normal gravel rally you may drink on average 7-8 litres of fluid a day but on a hot rally like Greece you might increase that to about 10-15 litres a day just to replace all the fluids you are losing. It's not a problem for either myself or Freddy but you must force yourself to drink -- either water or sport drinks, otherwise you will dehydrate. At least in Greece the organisers give you a bottle of water after each stage which helps as it's extra weight you don't have to carry in the car."
Following the traditional ceremonial start in Athens on the evening of Thursday 5 June, crews leave overnight parc ferme on Friday 6 June for 145km over eight special stages in the mountains south of the Lamia service park. Special stage 1, repeated later in the day (SS6) reaches an altitude in excess of 1650m, arguably higher than experienced before in Greece, and challenging the altitudes on Rally of Turkey. Leg one closes with the Lilea superspecial stage.
The second day is the longest of the event taking crews further south to the roads around Mt. Parnassos covering 148 competitive kilometres. Most stages are repeated or are repeats of those on leg one and the day ends with a second run of the superspecial. Leg three features all new stages and three tests, each run twice, complete the final 105km of the event. Crews reach the Lamia finish at 16:20 on Sunday 8 June.
Greece is GMT+2 hrs.