To conjure up the notion of hell, Greek mythology could have taken its cue from the stages of the 2006 Acropolis Rally. For it was effectively hell that WRC competitors faced this weekend as they tackled the cut-up, potholed, rock-strewn tracks of...
To conjure up the notion of hell, Greek mythology could have taken its cue from the stages of the 2006 Acropolis Rally. For it was effectively hell that WRC competitors faced this weekend as they tackled the cut-up, potholed, rock-strewn tracks of the Athens region. At the end of this punishing ordeal, Marcus Gronholm, Timo Rautiainen and their Ford/BFGoodrich returned to the Greek capital to take the honours ahead of Loeb (2 nd, Citroen/BFGoodrich) and Mikko Hirvonen (3 rd, Ford/BFGoodrich).
Following the cruel blow they were dealt in Sardinia two weeks, Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen (Ford/BFGoodrich) took sweet revenge this weekend to notch up not only their 21st world class win together but also their very first success in Greece, one of the roughest rounds - if not the roughest - of the entire championship.
Marcus Gronholm was in complete control from flag to flag and laid the foundations for his success by posting fastest time over every one of the opening day's six stages, although Petter Solberg (2nd, Subaru) and Sebastien Loeb (3rd, Citroen/BFGoodrich) had by no means given up hope at the end of Leg 1. Meanwhile, in the wake of this charging trio, a group of eight BFGoodrich runners - led by Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich) - were busy scrapping for 4th spot.
Saturday's stages were even rougher than those of the opening day and saw Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb pull progressively clear of Solberg before the Subaru driver's elimination by an accident on a road section between two stages. Then, on the day's final stage, Loeb dropped time when he was forced to finish the stage on the three wheels following a puncture. He managed to limp back to the evening's service halt where the Kronos-Total-Citroen team put in a remarkable job to restore the Xsara WRC to ship-shape once again. However, with a cushion now of practically two minutes over the Frenchman, Gronholm was pretty much able to just cruise home to the finish.
Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich) profited from Solberg's woes to inherit 3rd place, but the ranks of Friday evening's tightly-packed chasing bunch were split wide open on Days 2 and 3. Francois Duval (Skoda/BFGoodrich) fell from an excellent 5th place following a problem with his gearbox, while Manfred Stohl (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) rolled out of contention on Sunday morning and Dani Sordo (Citroen/BFGoodrich) was delayed by a sparkplug problem. In the end, Toni Gardemeister, driving a privately-entered Citroen/BFGoodrich and Norway's Henning Solberg (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) steered clear of trouble to claim 4th and 5th places respectively.
Malcolm Wilson, BP-Ford/BFGoodrich Team Principal:"This result is the fruit of the hard work we put in between Sardinia and the Acropolis Rally to make the Focus reliable.Mr. Edouard Michelin was a man who always liked challenges and this year's Acropolis Rally was indeed a challenge. We dedicate this win to him."
Aime Chatard, BFGoodrich's Rallies Programme Manager: The return of the Acropolis Rally to the Athens region this season marked a return to some of the punishing tracks that have forged the reputation of this event over the years. As predicted, it turned out to be a tough weekend for tyres, especially Legs 2 and 3. Not only were the stages extremely rough but some sections were run up to four times and average speeds were relatively high. Without the mousse inserts that are fitted inside each tyre, not one of the WRC cars would have made it back to the finish; all the drivers suffered punctures. In 90% of cases, the mousse fulfilled its role. But when the cut in the sidewall exceeds 5cm, the mousse can sometimes escape progressively from the tyre. That's possibly what happened in the case of Loeb on Saturday afternoon, but we haven't been able to make a detailed analysis since his tyre wasn't recovered. It's been one of those weekends when a lot of luck was necessary to win."
The new BFGoodrich g-Force Gravel H2
To take on the challenge of the 2006 Acropolis stages which always looked as though they would be particularly selective this year, BFGoodrich developed a new tyre, the g-Force Gravel H2. Wider, stronger and more durable than the g-Force Gravel (resistance to wear up by between 15 and 20%), this new product was essentially designed with second runs through swept-clean stages in mind.
Henning Solberg (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) was the first to run it when he chose it for Friday morning's loop, even though the tracks were still covered with a loose top surface and therefore not ideal for this tyre. Friday afternoon saw Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) give the g-Force Gravel H2 the first three fastest times of its career which enabled it to return to Athens on top at the end of Day 1.
Marcus chose the H2 again the following morning but, again, the conditions weren't ideal for it, although that didn't stop him from claiming two of the loop's three stages. With the exception of Gardemeister ('classic' g-Force Gravel 9+) and Dani Sordo (g-Force Gravel H1), all BFGoodrich's runners opted for the new g-Force Gravel H2 for the afternoon's awesome, sun-baked stages (ground temperatures up to 48C) which harvested three further fastest times.
"This weekend's results confirm the benefit of the new g-Force Gravel H2 in terms of durability," says Aime Chatard. "And in performance terms, Loeb and Gronholm's times on Saturday afternoon's long stage compared with our rivals, when the fight for victory was at its fiercest, revealed real potential. That said, the drivers said they found it a little 'nervous'over softer ground. So we will still have some work to do."