There has been a major change in the event's format for 2006. In previous years the rally was based in central Greece around the town of Lamia, 200km North of Athens. This year the service park, Super Special stage and rally HQ will be located at...
There has been a major change in the event's format for 2006. In previous years the rally was based in central Greece around the town of Lamia, 200km North of Athens. This year the service park, Super Special stage and rally HQ will be located at the Athens Olympic stadium complex, making the rally the only event to be based entirely in a capital city.
The route takes crews to the hills north and west of Athens, with no test further than 80km from the service park. The stages combine roads used in previous years with new stretches of freshly-regraded gravel, however with large rocks littering the roads, the event retains its rough, abrasive character. With average speeds higher than those in Sardinia and temperatures approaching 40ºC, Greece is one of the toughest events of the year.
The 2006 route includes 18 special stages and 355.62 competitive kilometres. Legs one and two will feature two loops of three stages separated by a midday service halt, with two loops of two tests on Leg three. There will be two passes through the Superspecial in the Olympic stadium built for the 2004 games on Thursday and Sunday, with an expected crowd of more than 60,000 fans. The podium finish is scheduled for 1530hrs in the stadium on Sunday.
Kronos Total Citroen
Leading the 'Manufacturers' classification, the Kronos Total Citroen WRT will enter two Xsaras on the Hellenic ground : one for reigning World Champions Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena - who are also leading the drivers' rankings - and another one for young Catalan driver Xevi Pons, co-driven by experienced Carlos Del Barrio. Lying in a great third position in the championship, Dani Sordo takes part in the Greek event with Marc Marti and thanks to its faithful supports (Grupo Labaro, Banco Santander, Gobierno de Cantabria, RACC and Wurth) on the same Xsara which allowed him to clinch his first podium on gravel in Italy.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "For Greece, the terrain and the tyres change. We will have at disposal brand new BFGoodrich tyres which should be very useful, like in Sardinia after the second loop of Friday where the tyres reached the wear limit. Of course Marcus has the same rubber but the efficiency also lies in the tyres-car association. Who will do best? It gives a lot of interest to the next match."
Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "Sardinia has been a sort of preview for Greece, with difficult stages and a heavy heat. On that last thing I have no problems as I realised Carlos and I are really fit. You shouldn't forget also that I am Mediterranean. Spaniards don't fear the heat.I don't know the new route but if I believe what I've heard, the rough stages and high temperatures will make of the new Acropolis a hard event."
The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team is under testing pressure prior to the "bp ultimate acropolis rally". Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor (Aut) encountered no problems when they completed 120 testing kilometres on Saturday. On Monday it will be the turn of OMV teammates Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud (Nor). One of the main goals is to get used to the new region. After several years in Delphi and Lamia the traditional rally will return to the Athens area. This means completely unchartered territory for the drivers in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "Of course, the road conditions and the character of the special stages are very similar to recent years. But as for really knowing even one singular stage, I don't. Which makes the recce extremely important. You have to have to be highly focussed and can't rely on pace notes from recent years."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "We already proven in Argentina that we have no problems with new rallies and can be very fast there. And we like gravel. Following the streak of bad luck in Argentina and Sardinia all we have to do is get a good result across the finishing line."
BP-Ford World Rally Team ends the first half of its 2006 campaign next week by taking on what is expected to be the toughest round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Acropolis Rally of Greece (1 - 4 June) is one of the series' classic events, which was voted the best in the 2005 championship, and a new format based around Athens' majestic Olympic Stadium ensures this eighth round is eagerly awaited.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "My retirement in Italy was disappointing but the pace of the car on the opening morning was so good. It surprised me because it was a disadvantage for Loeb to run first on the road in the loose gravel, but it wasn't that much better for me in second in the start order. I'm confident we can set the same kind of pace in Greece. The Focus has a strong history on this rally and it would be nice to add to its winning record."
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "After finishing second in Sardinia, I'm really excited about this rally. Despite the conditions, it's still a sprint rally so I will drive flat out from the start, but with an element of caution to avoid the rocks. Personally I feel well prepared. I stayed in Sardinia for two days to train in the heat and then I have two days' testing so I should be acclimatised to the high temperatures. The thing to remember is to keep drinking to replace the fluids you sweat out. Even when you think you can't drink any more, you have to keep drinking."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford
Brit Matthew Wilson reaches the half-way mark in his rookie FIA World Rally Championship season with one of the toughest rallies on the calendar, BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, based around the Athens home of the 2004 Olympic Games. Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr will have to put on a performance worthy of Olympic athletes in the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team as they tackle the 18 fast rock-strewn stages with the possibility of searing weather and car damaging rocks around every corner of the 356km of competitive distance.
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's another rough rally and until we've done the recce we won't know how bad it is. We've got a lot more protection on the car for this one as it is going to be that tough on the car. It's been a busy start to the season and I think everyone's looking forward to having a break before the next event. It will be good to get a solid result in Greece before the summer break and head to Germany on a high."
Kosti Katajamaki/Timo Alanne: "The last rally was not so good for me but now I am concentrating on Greece. I have done the rally four times before but this year the stages are different. I think it was difficult getting back in the Focus after the long break from Sweden but it will be a lot better to start again in the Acropolis. We are hoping for a lot better result than last time."
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two Impreza WRC2006s. One car will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) with the other by Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). Subaru has won the Acropolis Rally four times in the last 10 years. Colin McRae drove to victory in 1996 and 1998, with Richard Burns sealing a third Greek win for the team in 1999. Petter Solberg scored the seventh win of his career at the event in 2004. The Acropolis Rally will be Solberg's 100th WRC start. The 31-year-old will become the youngest driver to reach this total. Solberg made his world-level debut at the 1998 Swedish Rally and has since secured 13 wins, 17 podiums and the 2003 drivers' world title. Chris Atkinson starts his second Acropolis Rally this year.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Of course I was disappointed not to have finished higher in Sardinia as we did have the pace when everything went well. I never give up though and I'm going to Greece with the same goal I always have - to win. I enjoy the rally, I got my first podium there and this time it will be my 100th start. I want to make it a memorable one."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "The stages are all new for this year so we'll be learning them the same as everyone else on the recce. I'm quite positive about Greece. I was happy with the improvements we found in the test we did in Greece earlier this month. We found a good set-up that worked well in Sardinia and we will use more or less the same again in Greece. We showed in Italy that we had the speed to get a good finish and score some points, in Greece we've got to follow this through. I'm aiming for a top six."
Red Bull-Skoda Team
Red Bull Skoda will participate in the Acropolis Rally in Greece with both Fabia WRC just two weeks after Rally Sardinia. The car transporter has already been shipped to Athens, the crew has little time to prepare for the next WRC event. A lot will depend on Thursday's shakedown.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "I need to start into the rally very aggressively from day one. The Sardinia result had been a very unsatisfying one for me, I want to eradicate the team's bad gravel debut at any cost. I hope we'll find the proper setup right away, that's imperative to a good result."
Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "I guess the Greek stages suit us more because they are hard and have less loose sand on the edge than those in Sardinia. Besides I hope for a good shakedown to better get to grips with the setup than before. I'm already looking forward to working with my new co-driver Klaus Wicha, he's a genuine professional, I'm sure we'll form a good team."