Acropolis hat-trick for McRae, but Peugeot-Michelin and Marcus Grönholm lead WRC at season's midpoint. After his wins in Greece in 2000 (Ford-Michelin) and 2001 (Ford), Scotland's Colin McRae made WRC history today by becoming the ...
Acropolis hat-trick for McRae, but Peugeot-Michelin and Marcus Grönholm lead WRC at season's midpoint.
After his wins in Greece in 2000 (Ford-Michelin) and 2001 (Ford), Scotland's Colin McRae made WRC history today by becoming the first driver to score three consecutive wins on the legendary Acropolis Rally. The Ford driver came out on top after another exciting final day shootout with Peugeot-Michelin's Marcus Grönholm, but 2nd overall for the Finn has allowed him to extend his cushion at the top of the Drivers World Championship over Carlos Sainz (3rd, Ford). Meanwhile, at the season's midpoint, defending champions Peugeot-Michelin continue to lead the Manufacturers' series, although the combination of this weekend's result and the French team's twin exclusion in Argentina last month has enabled Ford to reduce its deficit from 41 to 22 points.
For the fifth time in seven years, Colin McRae (Ford) proved the man to beat on this weekend's Acropolis Rally. Following his previous successes on the sun-baked event in 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2001, this year's triumph had a special flavour for the Scot since it saw him become the first driver in the Greek round's history to take the laurels three times in succession.
McRae took command on the morning of Day 2 and stayed in front until the finish despite the charge of Peugeot-Michelin's Marcus Grönholm who came back strongly from 7th overall at the end of Day 1 to pile on the pressure during the closing stages. This time round, however, unlike in Cyprus two months ago when the Scot rolled twice on the final day in a near-identical scenario, McRae held firm to the flag to beat his Finnish rival by just under 25 seconds.
However, much of this deficit can be accounted for by the 206 WRC driver's unfavourable Day 1 running order when his status as championship leader gave him the dubious honour of having to run first through the opening leg's dust-covered stages. The 2000 World Champion accordingly spent the day sweeping clear a cleaner line for those following further down the order, including McRae, running six cars behind. This phenomenon, compounded by a time-consuming spin on SS4, saw a frustrated Grönholm lose ground compared with Markko Märtin (Ford), Freddy Loix (Hyundai-Michelin) and McRae (who completed Leg 1 in that order) and this in turn affected his Saturday re-start position when Friday evening's top-15 tackled Leg 2 in reverse order.
Meanwhile, McRae pushed home his advantage with a faultless drive, profiting from a time-consuming puncture for early leader Markko Märtin on the afternoon of Day 2 to steal into top spot. And with Leg 1 sensation Freddy Loix also gradually losing ground, the classification began to take on a more familiar look as the Ford star's most pressing rivals became Peugeot-Michelin's Richard Burns and Grönholm, plus, to a lesser degree, fellow Focus WRC driver Carlos Sainz, all three of whom had suffered in the power- and grip-sapping dust of Day 1.
With everything pointing to yet another thrilling finale today, the expected battle between the four World Champions failed to live entirely up to expectations. While gearbox gremlins on Saturday's last stage all but put Sainz out of the fight, Burns was sidelined by suspension failure on Sunday's opening stage, which left Grönholm on his own to try and force McRae into a mistake to give the 2002 Evolution 206 WRC an out-of-the-box win. However, maximum attack on the day's first group of stages made little inroads on his Scottish rival's advantage and, in the end, the Finn was happy to settle for 2nd place and six championship points.
While all this was going on, his countryman and Peugeot-Michelin team-mate Harri Rovanperä was locked in an equally, if not more exciting scrap with Subaru's Petter Solberg who fell way down the leaderboard on Day 1 following a number of spins and excursions. The final leg saw the two Scandinavians trade twice in three stages, but 4th place eventually went to the 206 WRC driver who squeeze past the Norwegian (5th) by exactly 1 second on the ultimate stage.
Markko Märtin's excellent drive was finally rewarded with 6th place and a solitary Drivers' point, while Citroën-Michelin's Sebastien Loeb and Thomas Radström completed the Xsara WRC's first gravel sortie of the season in 7th and 8th positions respectively. The French team continues its World Champion apprenticeship over the months ahead with outings scheduled on the forthcoming Safari, Finland and Deutschland Rallies.
Germany's Armin Schwarz (9th) bagged a consolation Manufacturers' point for Hyundai which made up - in part - for legitimate disappointment of seeing Freddy Loix retire from 4th place with a damaged sump three stages from home. Even so, his outstanding performance illustrated just how competitive the Hyundai-Michelin package is fast becoming and could well point to further top results before the year is out.
Toni Gardemeister completed the top-10 for Skoda-Michelin, while Francois Delecour (11th) was the sole Mitsubishi-Michelin finisher after the winner's brother, Alister McRae, disappeared on the final morning with steering damage.
MICHELIN CELEBRATES ATS SYSTEM'S
15th ANNIVERSARY WITH A SILVER MEDAL IN GREECE
START ORDER INFLUENCE... To be in the lead of the World Championship at the season's mid-point is a major achievement, but it can have its down side. For once again, Day 1 start order had a significant influence on the way the 2002 Acropolis Rally unfolded.
The deep top-film of dust and small stones that covered the stages first time through favoured a late running order, probably even more so than in April's Cyprus Rally. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot-Michelin), running first on the road on Friday, was amongst those to suffer most from this situation on Day 1 and then, by a knock-on effect, on Day 2.
SATISFACTION WITH MICHELIN GW... There was every reason to be pleased with the performance of the new Michelin GW which followed up its win in Cyprus last April with 2nd and 4th places this weekend in Greece (respectively Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä, Peugeot-Michelin).
Developed to limit wear on aggressive stage surfaces, the Michelin GW proved highly satisfactory in this domain despite ground temperatures of up to 44C, although wear-rate was more marked for some drivers than others, especially following suspension- or tyre-related incidents.
ANNIVERSARY... It was 15 years ago in Greece that Michelin's revolutionary ATS system was used for the first time in a World Championship rally.
Originally developed for rough events such as the Acropolis, it now allows drivers to set top stage times despite a puncture(s) on all types of surface. The special constraints of the Safari Rally made this an event which resisted for a long time, but the African round was dominated and won in 2001 by Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi-Michelin) who ran with the system practically from start to finish!
The system once again demonstrated its effectiveness this weekend in Greece, the most notable examples perhaps being Freddy Loix (Hyundai-Michelin), who was 6/10ths off the fastest time on SS2, and Richard Burns (Peugeot-Michelin) who was 3rd quickest on SS7... despite punctures!
Next round: Safari (Kenya), July 12th-14th 2002