High summer and another sun-drenched location marks the mid-point of this season's FIA World Rally Championship but holidays could not be further from the minds of series leaders Ford Martini. It is 'business only' for the team and drivers Colin...
High summer and another sun-drenched location marks the mid-point of this season's FIA World Rally Championship but holidays could not be further from the minds of series leaders Ford Martini. It is 'business only' for the team and drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist who go in search of their third consecutive victory this season on the Acropolis Rally (14 - 17 June) in Greece.
Team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya join the British pairing in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars, bidding not only to improve their already healthy drivers' title hopes, but in extending the Ford Martini team's advantage at the head of the manufacturers' standings on this seventh rally of the 14-round championship.
The omens are good. Conditions for the Acropolis, one of the world's classic rallies, are similar to Cyprus where earlier this month McRae won and Sainz finished third. Searing temperatures and boulder-strewn mountain tracks offer a hostile environment - the kind of conditions in which the Focus RS dominated in Cyprus and also on last year's Acropolis when McRae and Sainz were first and second.
The Acropolis is the toughest rally in Europe and only the most reliable of machinery and the fittest of athletes can prevent victory dreams turning into a Greek tragedy.
McRae's recent wins in Argentina and Cyprus lifted him to third in the championship, just seven points behind leader Tommi Mäkinen. He knows the formula for success in Greece, having won in 1996, 1998 and 2000 and the 32-year-old Scot is eager to extend his current run of great form.
"We've proved in the last two rallies that the Ford Focus is the strongest car at present and we must continue to take advantage of that fact, both in Greece and in Kenya next month," said McRae. "They're both hot, rough events and the kind of conditions in which the car seems to thrive.
"The Acropolis has usually been a good event for me. It's tough, it's hard and it's physically very demanding, the kind of rally where good preparation pays dividends. We must be positive and go to Greece with another win in mind. We've proved on consecutive events that we can do that, it's up to the others out there to try to stop us," he added.
Sainz lies just a point behind Mäkinen, the Spaniard the most consistent driver in the sport having scored on every round to date. His Acropolis record is formidable. He claimed his maiden world rally victory in Greece in 1990 and his performance record lists three wins, four runners-up positions and one third place in 11 starts.
"The Acropolis is a rally I enjoy," said the 39-year-old Madrid-based driver. "The memories of my first world rally win there remain clear in my mind. The roads are similar to those in Cyprus where the Focus was so strong but Greece is more difficult because conditions are rougher and you must avoid the rocks.
"Tyre wear is always critical on this rally. There's one section in which we drive 58km without service and in these conditions that's just about reaching the limit of tyre endurance. But Pirelli's rubber worked well in Cyprus and I think it will be good in Greece," he added.
François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup drive a third officially-entered Focus RS, the French duo aiming to launch another consistent run after retiring from third place in Cyprus. They had previously finished 11 consecutive rallies.
Challenge of the Acropolis Rally
It is the most punishing European round of the championship. As in Cyprus, intense heat can take a terrible toll but it is the rock-strewn tracks that really do the damage. Because the roads are less twisty in Greece, speeds are higher (although still slow in comparison to other rounds), and the potential for damage as the cars slide over the boulders is greater.
To compensate, the Focus RS cars will utilise increased under-body protection, stronger guards for the fuel tank and sump adding around 10kgs to the weight. And the team will fit new suspension on each car at every service park as a precaution against the battering.
It is a gruelling event for tyres and Pirelli must fight both tyre wear and the wheelspin that can accompany hard acceleration out of tight hairpin bends and long uphill climbs. The solution to combat rough roads would be harder compound rubber but that lessens grip which produces more wheelspin and more wear. Data shows a tyre turns 10,000 times in a typical 20km stage. Unchecked wheelspin can cause up to 40% additional revolutions - the equivalent of 8km on that 20km stage. So the challenge is to produce durable rubber which absorbs the punishment but crucially offers good grip on the rocky surface.
FIA Super 1600 Cup
Norwegian Martin Stenshorne leads the seven Ford Puma contenders in the second round of what is effectively a junior world championship. Stenshorne finished fourth on March's opening round in Spain but conditions in Greece could hardly be more different from the smooth asphalt encountered in Catalunya. More than 500km of rough road testing and competition in Spain last month confirmed the strength of the Puma while Ford Racing engineering manager Philip Dunabin said modifications to the exhaust system had improved engine performance at the lower end of the rev range.
Roadworks mean the rally's traditional opening below Athens' historic Parthenon has been dropped in favour of a ceremonial start at the Zappion, in the heart of the city. However, the event is again based north-west of the capital in the coastal town of Itea. Competitive action is based to the north, the route covering traditional Acropolis territory around the single service area at Parnassos. All three legs are similar in length, drivers facing a total of 398.91km of competition in a total route of 1645.38km. There will be little opportunity to ease off towards the end as the final stage is the longest of the event, a punishing 38.69km.
ACROPOLIS RALLY 2001
ROUND 7 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 14 - 17 JUNE 20-1
Thursday 14 June: Ceremonial Start Start Athens, Zappion 20.00
Friday 15 June: Leg 1 Itea - Itea Start Itea 08.00 SS1 Mendenitsa 1 26.92km 10.13 SS2 Paleohori 10.85km 10.58 SS3 Inohori 1 23.00km 12.33 SS4 Pavliani 1 24.45km 13.16 SS5 Elatia 31.40km 16.00 SS6 Mendenitsa 2 26.92km 17.28 Finish Itea 20.03 Total 143.54km
Saturday 16 June: Leg 2 Itea - Itea Start Itea 07.00 SS7 Pavliani 2 24.45km 08.55 SS8 Karoutes 1 18.89km 10.23 SS9 Livadia 1 11.66km 12.56 SS10 Stiri 1 9.34km 13.34 SS11 Gravia 1 17.13km 14.31 SS12 Inohori 2 23.00km 16.16 SS13 Karoutes 2 18.89km 17.24 Finish Itea 20.24 Total 123.36km
Sunday 17 June: Leg 3 Itea - Itea Start Itea 07.00 SS14 Amfiklia 1 8.25km 08.33 SS15 Elatia - Rengini 1 38.69km 09.06 SS16 Livadia 2 11.66km 12.04 SS17 Stiri 2 9.34km 12.42 SS18 Gravia 2 17.13km 13.39 SS19 Amfiklia 2 8.25km 15.07 S20 Elatia - Rengini 2 38.69km 15.40 Finish Itea 18.30 Total 132.01km Rally Total 398.91km