Baking hot conditions and fast, rough tracks are ready to test the world's top rally drivers on the seventh round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, which starts from Athens this evening. After a ceremony at the foot...
Baking hot conditions and fast, rough tracks are ready to test the world's top rally drivers on the seventh round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, which starts from Athens this evening. After a ceremony at the foot of the Zappion in the capital later today, crews will head to the mountains north of Itea for six special stages tomorrow.
Current World Championship leader Tommi Mäkinen will be aiming to get his title bid back on track, after he retired from the last round in Cyprus two weeks ago. But historically, the Greek event has been one of the Finn's weaker events and it remains one of few rallies in the championship that he has yet to win. Furthermore, two of his close title rivals, Colin McRae and Richard Burns, have won the Acropolis on the last two occasions.
All of the regular title contenders could yet have a further problem on the Acropolis: Citroen, which dominated for much of its first WRC outing in Catalunya in March, is entering the Xsara WRC on its first gravel round of the series. While even team members suggest that outright victory is a long shot, many believe that Thomas Rådström's Xsara will be able to fight for drivers' points and thus have a potential effect on the series standings.
Ford (1st - 50 points)
Technical: Ford has made no substantial changes to the Focus RS WRC01 for this event, with only slight modifications made to the dampers to accommodate the higher average speeds on the Greek stages. François Delecour will use an older car, albeit completely rebuilt, while Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz will each have a brand new Focus.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae are nominated for manufacturers' points, with François Delecour aiming for drivers' points only. The Frenchman has recently been confirmed as an entry for the Deutschland Rally, the German event in early July that has attracted a large number of manufacturer entries.
Colin McRae said: “Things are looking good at the moment, and the car should be as competitive here as it was in Argentina and Cyprus. Pirelli has a good reputation on the Acropolis as well - we just need to make sure we capitalise on all of this. I think the first day will be the main thing - on the second and third the disadvantage with position on the road should be less, but tomorrow will be difficult.”
Carlos Sainz said: “I expect to be some time behind the leaders at the end of tomorrow because of my position on the road. But then we still have two days to recover. We've got a good record here after last year and the car is clearly working well, but it's not good to get over confident. The team has been working very hard since Cyprus and I'm hopeful that we can get another one-two for Ford in Greece.”
Mitsubishi (2nd - 47 points)
Technical: Mitsubishi's Lancers are essentially unchanged in technical specification from the cars used in Cyprus.
Sporting: Four-time world champion and current series leader Tommi Mäkinen will be supported by Belgian Freddy Loix in the second Lancer as usual. After running a third Lancer for Katsuhiko Taguchi in Cyprus Mitsubishi reverts to its usual two-car line-up, although Toni Gardemeister - who will drive a third Lancer in Finland - will be spectating in Greece.
Tommi Mäkinen said: “I think the stages here are in some of the best condition I've ever seen them. They are very fast in places and not as rough as in previous years. That's not to say it won't be tough, of course. I'm not sure how much of a threat the Citroen will be here - probably not as big a problem as it was in Catalunya. They have experience of rally raids but this is a special stage rally and it's totally different.”
Freddy Loix said: “It's so smooth now here that it's almost like a different rally. But the higher speeds will bring their own problems, because the tyres and cars will have to work harder in different ways. I just hope I can find a good pace and then see what happens. There are a lot of top World Rally Cars here but with a good clean run it should be possible to aim for the points.”
Subaru (3rd - 22 points) Technical: Subaru sends four Impreza WRC2001s to Greece, but the cars' technical specification is largely unchanged from the cars that tackled Cyprus a fortnight ago.
Sporting: Richard Burns and Petter Solberg are nominated to score manufacturers' points for Subaru in Argentina, with Japanese driver Toshihiro Arai and the returning Markko Martin nominated for drivers' points only.
Richard Burns said: “The stages here are certainly smoother than they've been in recent years but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. Tyre wear will still be a problem because even though it's smoother, it's still quite an aggressive surface. On some of the stages the roads have been regraded but they haven't quite settled, so even during the recce we were seeing ruts starting to form.”
Markko Martin said: “It's good to be back. I've done quite a bit of testing but there's no substitute for experience and that's what I'm here for. I expect this to be tough - it's hard to gauge on these stages just how hard you can push without damaging the car or risking a puncture. But I'm looking forward to competing again.”
Peugeot (4th - 20 points) Technical: Peugeot again sends three of the 2001-specification 206 WRCs for Marcus Grönholm, Didier Auriol and Harri Rovanperä. The team's engineers are confident that the glitches that halted Marcus Grönholm and Didier Auriol in Cyprus will have been solved. Peugeot's two Finnish drivers will each use five-speed gearboxes in their cars, while Auriol will have a six-speed at his disposal.
Sporting: Marcus Grönholm and Didier Auriol are nominated for manufacturers' points, with Harri Rovanperä scoring drivers' points only. Peugeot's asphalt specialist Gilles Panizzi will also tackle the event, driving a 206 WRC run by private team Grifone.
Marcus Grönholm said: “I think the stages here are in very good condition. Some of them will not be so nice when we're going over them for the second time, but from my recce all I can say is that they look very good indeed. I've had a lot of bad luck and retirements this year so I'm just wanting to get a good finish here - that would be a boost for me and for the team.”
Hyundai (5th - 10 points) Technical: Hyundai sends two Accent WRC2s to Greece, for regular drivers Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson. The team tested extensively last weekend in an attempt to eradicate the glitches that cost valuable time during the car's otherwise promising showing in Cyprus a fortnight ago. Sporting: Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson drive the two Accents, with Piero Liatti not expected to re-appear for the team until Corsica later this season.
Alister McRae said: “We did about 200km just before we started the recce for this rally and we had no major problems, so I'm optimistic that the team has sorted the problems we had in Cyprus. I certainly hope so - we've been showing over the last few rallies that if we get a clean run, there's the chance of a good result. All we can say, of course, is that the car felt very good in the test - we won't know how we compare to the others until the first stage tomorrow morning.”
Skoda (6th - 7 points) Technical: Skoda's two Octavia WRCs are unchanged in technical specification from the models that tackled the Cyprus Rally.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry will drive the Czech manufacturer's two Octavia WRCs as usual.
Armin Schwarz said: “Compared to last year's Acropolis the roads are much smoother this time, but I also think they'll cut up pretty badly so the second running of some stages will be hard on the cars and the drivers. The rally will long, hot and tough, so I'm optimistic that we can get a clean run and maybe look to get a point or two.”
Bruno Thiry said: “The temperatures in Greece are high but there is better air circulation because the stages aren't as twisty. I'm sure it'll be a tough event for everyone but I think we can get a decent result here.“
Technical: Citröen fields two Xsara WRCs on the car's first gravel outing in the World Rally Championship. Naturally, the cars differ substantially from the asphalt-specification Xsaras that led for so much of the Catalunya Rally in March.
Citröen has tested extensively in the Livadia area in an attempt to hone the cars to Greek gravel. At yesterday's shakedown, Thomas Rådström's car suffered a minor electrical problem during its first run but after servicing from the Citröen mechanics, he suffered no further difficulties. The two Xsaras are both equipped with air conditioning, a system designed to keep the drivers cool in the stifling Greek heat. Engineers reckon the system, last used by Citröen during the Baja Portugal Rally Raid in 1994, adds 15kg to the weight of the Xsara.
Sporting: Citröen calls up Thomas Rådström to team up with Philippe Bugalski in Greece. Bugalski wasn't able to celebrate his 38th birthday yesterday, as the multiple French champion was ill throughout the shakedown. He is expected to be fully fit by the time action commences tomorrow. Meanwhile, the FIA World Council decided yesterday that Citröen (which is only entering four WRC rounds this season) would not score points in the FIA World Championship for Manufacturers this year.
Thomas Radstrom said: “The recce went very well for me, although it was sometimes hard to have two passes at slow speed. I don't think the FIA's decision means a big change. It's not that important for Citröen to be scoring points in 2001 anyway.”
The Cyprus Rally is the second round of the inaugural FIA Super 1600 Cup, the cost-controlled series designed to introduce new talent to the World Championship. Citroen Saxo driver Sebastien Loeb dominated the first round in Catalunya, but with the front-wheel drive cars not allowed to run mousse anti-deflation systems in their tyres in Greece, the top crews here could well be the ones with the fewest punctures or mechanical problems.
The Acropolis is also a round of the FIA Teams Cup . Two of the contenders in that category will have cause to celebrate - Abdullah Bakashab is contesting his 25th world championship event, while former World Champion Stig Blomqvist is competing in his 100th.
Michelin supplies two types of tyre for the Acropolis - its ZB pattern is designed with rigid tread blocks to give better grip on aggressive stage surfaces, while the Z offers a more open tread pattern for slightly looser gravel. Pirelli brings three types of tyre to Greece. Ford has chosen the K and XR ranges, designed for essentially smooth and rocky surfaces respectively, while Subaru as opted for the X instead of the K. The X range is more suited to hard surfaces coated in loose dust and gravel.
All time GMT +3
Leg 1,Friday 15th June 523.68 km
SS1 10:13 Mendenitsa I 26.92 km SS2 10:58 Paleohori 10.85 km SS3 12:33 Inohori I 23.00 km SS4 13:16 Pavliani I 24.45 km SS5 16:00 Elatia 31.40 km SS6 17:28 Mendenitsa II 26.92 km
Leg 2, Saturday 16th June 607.32 km
SS7 08:55 Pavliani II 24.45 km SS8 10:23 Karoutes I 18.89 km SS9 12:56 Livadia I 11.66 km SS10 13:34 Stiri I 9.34 km SS11 14:31 Gravia I 17.13 km SS12 16:16 Inohori II 23.00 km SS13 17:24 Karoutes II 18.89 km
Leg 3, Sunday 17th June 514.38 km
SS14 08:33 Amfiklia I 8.25 km SS15 09:06 Elatia-Rengini I 38.69 km SS16 12:04 Livadia II 11.66 km SS17 12:42 Stiri II 9.34 km SS18 13:39 Gravia II 17.13 km SS19 15:07 Amfiklia II 8.25 km SS20 15:40 Elatia-Rengini II 38.69 km