Day 2: a colossal drive from tyre-wise Loeb The second day of the 2008 Acropolis Rally, round seven of this year's World Rally Championship, proved every bit as punishing as many had feared. Although Citroen Total wasn't spared problems, it ...
Day 2: a colossal drive from tyre-wise Loeb
The second day of the 2008 Acropolis Rally, round seven of this year's World Rally Championship, proved every bit as punishing as many had feared. Although Citroen Total wasn't spared problems, it did have the satisfaction of seeing Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and their C4 WRC end the day in front after a superb display of intelligent tyre management. Team-mates Dani Sordo/Marc Marti are seventh, while Urmo Aava/Kuldar Sikk and Conrad Rautenbach/David Senior are fifth and ninth respectively in their PH- Sport/Citroen Sport Technologies-run C4 WRCs.
The longest leg of this weekend's Acropolis Rally featured a programme of two loops of three gravel stages close to the main road from Athens to Corinth. The total competitive distance was a little more than 119km, but certain portions of that distance were extremely rough. Add to that the searing heat that reigned all day and it was almost like a trip to Hades for the crews, cars and tyres alike! "Technically, this is turning out to be a very punishing event indeed," underlined Citroen Sport's Technical Manager Xavier Mestelan-Pinon this evening. "The combination of the hard ground, the high temperatures and our Pirelli tyres which the regulations do not permit to be equipped with run-flat mousse are making this a very, very complex rally."
Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena agreed wholeheartedly with that analysis. "What a morning," commented Seb as he climbed out of his C4 at the lunchtime service halt. "We saw it all: after a bout of road-sweeping on SS8, which didn't offer any grip at all, we went on to pick up a rear-left puncture on the following stage simply keeping to the middle of the road! A right-hand corner and... 'pffft', a flat tyre! It was only on SS10 that we didn't have any unpleasant surprises."
The morning's story was different, however, for Dani Sordo and Marc Marti who inherited top spot after Seb's puncture. "It was tough in places trying to find the ideal pace, but it's nice to be leading," recognised the Spaniard. "It's OK to push hard over the smoother portions, but you've got to decide how best to deal with the rougher parts. Do you drive flat out and run the risk of puncturing and damaging the car, or do you lift... and lose time? It's not easy to find the ideal compromise between the two, but it went well this morning. We'll see how it goes this afternoon..."
The second loop turned out to be exceptionally difficult and produced a cascade of retirements and mechanical problems. The Citroen camp didn't come out of the afternoon entirely unscathed... "Given how incredibly punishing the stages are, the fact that we could only use one type of tyre called for some careful tyre management over today's second loop," explained the defending World Champion this evening, his face still marked by the day's toil. "After my experience here last year, it didn't take me long to grasp that the most important thing was to reach the finish on four wheels! We came through it OK, but we had to look after our tyres every inch of the way. We are still in the lead, so that means we face still more 'road-sweeping' tomorrow. Given that our advantage over the crews in second and third places isn't that big, this rally isn't at all over yet!"
"We hardly had any rubber left on our tyres going into the final stage," related Dani, "but we managed to make it back to service. We'll see tomorrow what tactics to adopt to perhaps try to score more points."
Olivier Quesnel was dubitative at the end of the day. "Both our C4s are running perfectly and I think a one-two finish was on the cards, yet working out the best way of making sure Dani made it back to service turned out to be a real brainteaser. Our instructions and the best efforts of our crews to manage their tyres didn't suffice. This raises the question of the suitability of having just one type of tyre for such a specific and punishing event as the Acropolis. There are still 110km of stages to come tomorrow. After what we've seen today, we will go into the final day extremely cautiously."