Citroen targeting Acropolis heights The Acropolis Rally of Greece kicks off the second half of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, and after claiming the first five rounds of the season in their Citroen Total World Rally Team C4 WRC,...
Citroen targeting Acropolis heights
The Acropolis Rally of Greece kicks off the second half of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, and after claiming the first five rounds of the season in their Citroen Total World Rally Team C4 WRC, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will be eager to return to their winning ways on the Greek event's extremely punishing stages. Team-mates Dani Sordo and Marc Marti are also targeting a podium finish.
After being based in Athens in recent years, the Acropolis Rally's organisers have chosen a new venue for the event's 56th edition. The service area will be based in Loutraki, very close to the Corinth Canal which separates the Peloponnese peninsular from the Greek mainland. This move has enabled a new route to be found and marks the return of several stages which haven't been used for many years.
The Greek terrain is notoriously tough on the cars and the event is viewed as one of the roughest of series. Winning the Acropolis consequently calls for a combination of speed and mechanical sympathy. Thanks to his previous wins in 2005 and 2008, Sebastien Loeb is aware of what it takes to finish on the highest step of the podium, and last year saw the five-time World Champion pave the way for his success by steering clear of punctures.
"Sometimes you really mustn't hesitate to lift over the rougher parts to make sure you don't damage anything or puncture. Our C4 WRC and our Pirelli Scorpion tyres are very strong, but you're talking here about very extreme conditions, especially when the weather is hot," notes the Citroen driver. Having won five rounds from six so far this season, Seb will be looking to take his total score of WRC successes to 53: "Our 17-point lead in the championship should incite us to try to control our advantage, but I will be out to win. As we saw in Sardinia, nothing can ever be taken for granted and we can't afford to ease up in any way. I'm expecting it to be a difficult event, especially since our rivals have a habit of going well in Greece."
Dani Sordo finished fifth in Greece last year after being eliminated from the fight for top spot by a number of punctures. This time round, the Spaniard hopes to be able to profit from his experience to target a better result: "It will an interesting event because there are so many new stages. The Acropolis is a rally I enjoy and I believe I can play a front-running role. We were down on luck last year, but we were competitive, so we will try to be consistent and look after our car as best we can. My objective is the same as ever, and that is to score as many points as possible to help Citroen increase its lead in the Manufacturers' standings. If that permits me to recover second place in the Drivers' championship from Mikko Hirvonen, then so much the better!"
Three questions to ... Sebastien Loeb
Last week, you were made a Knight of the Legion d'Honneur by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Can you tell us what Mr. Sarkozy said to you?
"He said a number of times that he was pleased to have been able to make the award personally, and I believe he was being sincere. It's not every day you're invited to the Palais de l'Elysee, especially to receive a medal, and the ceremony was very relaxed and enjoyable. It's a nice recompense for motor sport as a whole and for rallying in particular."
Looking back to Sardinia, if you could go back and change something, what would it be?
"I'd make sure I won the rally! Seriously, though, you've got to question whether it's that important to try not to be first on the road. Even if we hadn't picked up a puncture and taken the time penalty that followed it, I think we would have had trouble trying to get the better of Jari-Matti Latvala anyway. For that, we would have had to have second-guessed Sunday morning's dust problem. At the end of the day, I've got no reason to be unhappy with the result because we only dropped three points to Mikko Hirvonen."
You won last year's Acropolis Rally thanks to your superior tyre management. What is your secret?
"It's true that last year's outcome was chiefly down to tyre management. It just wasn't possible to drive the entire rally flat out. It didn't take me long to realise that our tyres wouldn't be able withstand that sort of rhythm on the long Aghii Teodori test. I found a good compromise pace and that enabled me to complete that loop of stages without puncturing. With experience, you get to sense whether you're asking too much of your machine."