After three difficult days of competition, Petter Solberg finished the Acropolis Rally of Greece in ninth place this afternoon. Despite a determined effort on today's stages to close the gap on the cars ahead, Solberg was unable to make up the...
After three difficult days of competition, Petter Solberg finished the Acropolis Rally of Greece in ninth place this afternoon. Despite a determined effort on today's stages to close the gap on the cars ahead, Solberg was unable to make up the time lost earlier in the rally. Stephane Sarrazin delivered an impressive performance on only his second gravel rally. Despite the disadvantage of running as one of the first cars through today's four slippery stages, the Frenchman grew in speed and confidence throughout the event.
SS16 0813 Dikastro (26.78km)
In warm and sunny conditions, crews left Lamia parc ferme to begin the first of the morning's two stages. Ford's Toni Gardemeister set the early pace; posting the quickest time and taking his first stage win of the rally. Sebastien Loeb was second-fastest, just 0.1sec behind, with Marcus Gronholm third. Although he started the day less than eight seconds behind Gardemeister on the overall leaderboard, Carlos Sainz was unable to answer the Finn's speed through the stage and he dropped back a further seven seconds. Petter Solberg was fifth-fastest to hold ninth overall. Tobias Johansson retired when he went off the road in his privately entered Subaru WRC.
Fastest Stage Time: Gardemeister (Ford) 21:00.4
SS17 0914 Grammeni (19.66km)
Sebastien Loeb was fastest again, with Toni Gardemeister second. The potential battle between Sainz and Gardemeister failed to materialise, as Sainz declared he wasn't prepared to take any risks and was happy to settle for third. Petter Solberg continued to close the gap on Markko Martin's eighth place. After the morning's 45 stage kilometres, Solberg had reduced his deficit from 1min 7sec to 41sec, with another 50 kilometres remaining in the afternoon. After the stage crews returned to Lamia for a 30-minute service halt.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 14:23.4
SS18 1145 Pyrgos (34.80km)
Special stage 18 was a brand new test and the longest of the event. Fresh from the service area, Ford privateer Mikko Hirvonen was quickest to maintain his fifth place overall. Despite claiming not to remember much of the stage from the recce, Loeb was next-quickest, with Marcus Gronholm third. Petter Solberg pushed hard to take more time off Markko Martin, but could only manage to reduce the gap by another two seconds. With one stage to go it looked like all of the top-10 drivers were content to hold their positions.
Fastest Stage Time: Hirvonen (Ford) 27:48.1
SS19 1243 Perivoli (17.55km)
There were no last stage upsets for the leading competitors. Mikko Hirvonen ended the rally with a sprint finish to collect another stage win, but elsewhere it was a familiar story, with Gronholm, Loeb, Sainz and Gardemeister rounding off the top five times. Sebastien Loeb won the rally and became the first driver ever to win five consecutive rallies in a WRC season. Toni Gardemeister was second and Carlos Sainz third. Petter Solberg finished the Leg in ninth place to collect one point for Subaru in the Manufacturers' Championship. St=E9phane Sarrazin enjoyed a trouble-free day in his Impreza WRC2005 and finished 13th.
Fastest Stage Time: Hirvonen (Ford) 14:54.2
This has been a character building event for the whole team. It's been frustrating for Petter not to have a clean run against his rivals. After problems early on, it was difficult for him to fight back from his position. He's not really been able to show what he can do on these stages. It would be very easy to under-estimate St=E9phane's performance here, as he doesn't have a great deal to show for all of his efforts. But his times on the latter stages were impressive, considering his position on the road, and if he continues to make progress like this he'll be a serious contender on gravel as well as asphalt.
As you'd expect I'm disappointed with my result, it's not the one I was hoping for. In fact, I have been disappointed about my results on the last few rallies, that's for sure. But we have to put this aside and look forward to Argentina now. There are plenty of reasons to feel confident about the next rally; I know I can win it. We've reached the mid-point in the Championship and yes, I would have liked to have closed in on Seb, but it's certainly not over yet.
I had a few problems with punctures and tyre choices on Friday and Saturday which interrupted my rhythm on this rally, but re-starting on Saturday allowed me more time to think about the car set-up and I think that was quite a benefit. Generally I'm very pleased with my performance. I think I am making good progress and I'm feeling confident about the future.
News From Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager:
"After Petter's problems on the first day, he found it difficult to envisage a top result. However, we did our best to give him tyres that would help him to limit the damage. We also acquired a lot of information about this event, which will be useful for the future. The rally has changed considerably in character recently, it's a lot quicker than it was in the past."