After coming tantalisingly close to victory on numerous occasions, Ford- Michelin's Markko MÃ¤rtin has at last had the honour of popping WRC champagne for the first time of his career. The 27-year old Estonian had already given...
After coming tantalisingly close to victory on numerous occasions, Ford- Michelin's Markko Märtin has at last had the honour of popping WRC champagne for the first time of his career. The 27-year old Estonian had already given eloquent glimpses of his and the new Focus WRC's potential in both New Zealand and Argentina, but this time he went all the way to the flag to collect the new car's maiden success on only its third outing.
Consistent and incisive as always, Citroën-Michelin's Carlos Sainz (2nd) joined Märtin on the podium to move into 2nd place in the Drivers' points table, while bronze for the ever-pugnacious Petter Solberg (Subaru) saw three different manufacturers share the top three places yet again.
With ground temperatures peaking at over 40°C, the rocky Acropolis Rally was its usual tough challenge for tyres, but Michelin rose to the occasion to secure its fifth one-two finish of 2003 and take its total WRC score to a record 198 wins.
Six years after making his World Championship debut as an amateur in Finland in August 1997, Markko Märtin's long-acknowledged talent has at last harvested him his first victory in world class rallying. Twice in 2002 (Greece, Great Britain), and on two other occasions this year (New Zealand, Argentina), the Estonian has come close to securing that confidence- boosting maiden success but was either betrayed by his mechanicals or else pipped at the post.
This time however, the combination of a faultless drive and the reliability of his new evolution Ford-Michelin saw the unassuming youngster take command on the morning of Day 1, then consolidate his lead with a series of five fastest times, and ultimately control from in front with all the maturity of someone with years of experience under his belt...
The bids of the few drivers who attempted to challenge his authority were sanctioned either by spins or mechanical problems and, slowly but surely, attention turned to the battle for podium honours.
For in Märtin's wake, the three days saw as many as seven drivers relay each other in second and third positions. But once defending champion Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot-Michelin) had disappeared with a fuel feed problem on Day 1, and after the bids of Harri Rovanperä (6th, Peugeot-Michelin), Petter Solberg (3rd, Subaru) and Colin McRae (8th, Citroën-Michelin) were thwarted by time-consuming transmission, engine or electronic troubles, it was that man Carlos Sainz (2nd) who came through the punishing Greek conditions to collect his fourth podium finish in Citroën-Michelin colours, the Spaniard coolly surviving Solberg's last-day assault to move into second place in the 2003 Drivers' World Championship standings.
Finally, the 'take-it-safe' policy of Richard Burns saw the Briton conclude the weekend as the best-placed Peugeot-Michelin representative in 4th place and, once again, in the big points. Seriously hampered by running first on the road on Day 1, he was further handicapped by having to spend half the rally competing with a gear ratio missing (3rd gear on Friday, the 2nd gear from Saturday afternoon until the finish). But the five extra points in his pocket tonight plus the early retirement of his teammate Marcus Grönholm have not only seen him keep his place on top of the Drivers' points table but have actually enabled him to extend his advantage at the top of the table by three units!
New + new + new = 1st. Markko Märtin's faultless run adds a new name to the illustrious list of WRC winners, Ford celebrates the maiden win of its generation Focus WRC, while Michelin was especially pleased with the performance of the latest evolution of its GW pattern that first won in Cyprus in 2002.
This is Michelin and Ford's first win since the renewal of the two firms' association at the beginning of 2003, and also their second Acropolis success together in four years after McRae's victory with the Focus on Michelin tyres in 2000.
A valuable gain. Extrapolating from the performance of Michelin's partners during the 2003 Acropolis Rally, the gain of the latest evolutions of the Michelin GW and Michelin Z is evaluated to have been approximately 1/10th of a second per kilometre this weekend compared with the specifications employed in Greece twelve months ago.
This advantage translates into a theoretical gain of 30+ seconds over the groups of stages for which Märtin - who is particularly unaggressive on tyres - used the latest evolutions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (groups 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 & 8).
Aimé Chatard, Rallies Manager, Michelin Competition: "We're delighted with this performance which is totally in line with the results of our pre- Greece test programme with these new tyres."
Greece will always be Greece. Everyone knows the traditional ingredients of the Acropolis Rally : punishing, hard wearing stages and searing heat. This year, ground temperatures reached as high as 40°C, and wheelspin made combating wear as vital as ever.
Even so, this weekend's contest was about outright speed from Day 1 and, given the fierceness of the fight - not only victory, but also for the points positions -, Michelin was particularly pleased with the performance of its range: the Michelin GW (2 compounds, 2 widths, including the new GW19 used by Citroën) and the Michelin Z (2 compounds).
Even in the case of those drivers most reputed for being hard on tyres, wear was not an issue amongst Michelin's WRC partners, while the ATS system filled its role perfectly in the remarkably few cases of punctures or damaged rims.
Two to go to 200. The Acropolis Rally was Michelin's sixth win from six rounds this year, which takes its score to a record 198 WRC wins since the World Championship was created in 1973.