PEUGEOT OUT TO ATTACK IN GREECE After Sardinia, Cyprus and Turkey, the long tour of Mediterranean gravel rallies that kicked off at the beginning of April will end over the sun-baked tracks of central Greece. Peugeot goes to the eighth round of...
PEUGEOT OUT TO ATTACK IN GREECE
After Sardinia, Cyprus and Turkey, the long tour of Mediterranean gravel rallies that kicked off at the beginning of April will end over the sun-baked tracks of central Greece. Peugeot goes to the eighth round of the season with every intention of defending its lead in the Manufacturers' championship. Reliability has been one of the strong points of the 307 WRC this year and the two cars present for the Acropolis Rally will be driven by Marcus Gronholm, who finished 2nd in the 2002 event, and the 2004 winner Markko Martin.
Of the four loose-surface Mediterranean rim rounds, the Acropolis Rally is undoubtedly the most prestigious of them all and also the most popular with the competitors. Organised for the first time in 1950, the event had already emerged as one of the sport's classics even before the creation of the World Championship in 1973. The Acropolis Rally was the sixth of the thirteen rounds of that inaugural series and was particularly tough: of the 83 entries, only 11 reached the finished! Things have changed a great deal since. Today's route is significantly shorter and takes the form of loops which start and finish in the town of Lamia in the central part of the country. The roads themselves are smoother and the rocks which used to cause so many nightmares for tyre manufacturers are now fewer and farther between. The stages continue to be tough but they are also technically challenging for the drivers. Generally extremely hot at this time of year, the summer weather puts added strain on the engines, transmissions and suspensions alike.
Peugeot won this rally in 1985 and 1986 with the 205 Turbo 16 and has since notched up a long list of top results, although it has been unable to add a third victory to its record.
To optimise its chances of finishing on the top step of the podium this time round, the team built on the information collected during the 307 WRC's most recent loose surface outings during a three-day test early in June, the objective of the programme being to test the range of gravel tyres developed by its partner Pirelli with a view to finding the best possible chassis/tyre package.
From his six Acropolis Rally starts with Peugeot to date, Marcus Gronholm has only finished on the podium once -- in 2002 -- and the two-times World Champion will naturally be out to improve on that score this year. "This hasn't been my most successful rally," he admits. "There's no particular explanation for that. It's basically down to luck. It's an event I like, and I think it has improved with the years. I would naturally love to win the Acropolis Rally, twenty or so years after Juha Kankkunen picked up Peugeot's last success there. The competition is likely to be very fierce. My aim is above all to score points for the team."
That ambition is shared by his team-mate Markko Martin. Tremendously consistent since the start of the year, the Peugeot driver has happy recollections of the 2003 event which produced the first WRC win of his career. "Looking after your tyres is one of the keys to success on this rally," he explains. "The stages are hard-wearing and it can get very hot. You have to cover many stages on the different loops with no opportunity to change tyres, so good tyre management is crucial." Markko Martin was less fortunate last year when an accident put him out of the running on Day 1. "So far, I've never done things by halves in Greece. It's either been very good or very bad," he reflects. "This year, I will mainly be looking to pick up points for the team."
Going into Greece, the eighth round of this year's 16-round season, Peugeot tops the Manufacturers' standings with a score of 72 points ahead of Citroen and Ford on 68 and 49 points respectively. Markko Martin and Marcus Gronholm are currently 3rd and 4th in the Drivers' standings.