Finland's Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen (Ford/BFGoodrich) secured the 28th world class win of their careers today after a weekend spent coping with the punishing stages of Greece's legendary Acropolis Rally. They essentially sealed their ...
Finland's Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen (Ford/BFGoodrich) secured the 28th world class win of their careers today after a weekend spent coping with the punishing stages of Greece's legendary Acropolis Rally. They essentially sealed their success thanks to their performance over what must qualify as the toughest stage of the year: the 48.88km Aghii Theodhori test which turned out to be a gruelling test not only of the cars and drivers but also of their tyres. With the 2007 World Rally Championship now at its midpoint, Gronholm tops the Drivers' standings by a margin of nine points over Loeb, while Ford/BFGoodrich enjoys an 28-point margin over Citroen/BFGoodrich in the Manufacturers' table. The WRC resumes with early August's Rally Finland.
Any serious book about Greek mythology will relate how Aghii Theodhori, situated between Corinth and Athens, is known for two heroes: Theseus, who slayed the sow boar Phaea on his way to Athens, and Marcus Gronholm who did much more than simply save his bacon many years later!
The 48.88km Aghii Theodhori stage of this weekend's Acropolis Rally was feared by everyone. But while some of the drivers preferred not to admit so much prior to the start, no doubt because they hadn't yet grasped the scale of the task that awaited them, this awesome test lived up to its reputation and is sure to go down in rallying records as an absolute classic. It saw Sebastien Loeb lose any chance he had of winning the Greek round, while Petter Solberg broke a damper in it and lost all hopes of a silver medal at today's finish. And however much of a challenge it may have been for the WRC drivers, it was utter torture for the tyres.
Only Marcus Gronholm survived it unscathed, despite a bold tyre choice second time round that saw him take the seemingly crazy gamble of using the same rubber as he had done for the morning's run ('9+' g-Force Gravel), despite the hotter ground temperatures (close to 50C) and the damage caused by the first pass. In all logic, the Ford driver, like his rivals, should have gone for one of the much harder, wider or stronger options in his quota,
When Matthew Wilson and Mikko Hirvonen (Ford), who were on the same choice as Gronholm, arrived at the Stop Control with their tyres shredded to pieces, there were real fears for Gronholm whose split times showed he was pushing hard and at no stage did the gap with Loeb exceed 5 seconds. That is until the 35th kilometre. That's when the outcome was essentially decided, halfway between the Corinthian Gulf and the Aegean Sea. Who would have the final word, Gronholm running on '9+' compound Gravels or Loeb and his wider H1s.
In the end, the final descent to Loutraki, little more than a laurel-lined ribbon of rocks, proved too much for Loeb's tyres "I pushed them too hard at the beginning of the stage and one tyre ended up coming 'unseated' 6km from the finish," recognised the three-time World Champion.
Meanwhile, Marcus Gronholm had succeeded in managing his tyres to perfection and was able to continue at the same unrelenting pace until the flag. The result of the stage saw him double his cushion at the top of the provisional leaderboard and, from then on, he was practically able to cruise through the rest of the event to pick up his second consecutive Acropolis Rally win and the 28th WRC success of his career.
The daunting SS14 could well have played into the hands of Subaru/BFGoodrich's Petter Solberg too. After the Subaru team's faultless early run, which saw Chris Atkinson emerge as leader on Day 1, the Norwegian was 2nd overall by Saturday afternoon and successfully warding off the challenge of Sebastien Loeb. For SS14, he opted for the new extra-hard compound g-Force Gravel 10 introduced by BFGoodrich on the recent Rally d'Italia-Sardegna. His choice was rewarded with the second quickest time on Aghii Theodhori but a damper had failed with the finish in sight. With no chance to change it, he was compelled to cover the next two tests with a somewhat limping Impreza. Nonetheless, the Subaru/BFGoodrich squad will be pleased to have come away from Greece with a car on the final podium.