Searing temperatures, choking dust and rock-strewn stages are just some of the challenges WRC drivers will face on round six of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally of Greece, which starts from the town of Lamia on Thursday, 3 ...
Searing temperatures, choking dust and rock-strewn stages are just some of the challenges WRC drivers will face on round six of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally of Greece, which starts from the town of Lamia on Thursday, 3 June.
First run 51 years ago and based on mountain roads in central Greece, the three-day rough gravel event is reckoned to be the toughest of the current 16-round WRC series and is the second in a trio of rocky Mediterranean events.
The combination of the Greek summer sunshine, twisty stages and relatively low average speeds make this event an uncomfortable one for cars as well as drivers. Critical factors for cars are mechanical reliability, effective cooling and the correct choice of tyre for the hot and abrasive roads, while for drivers, searing cockpit temperatures and the pounding terrain prove a stern test of physical resilience.
Beginning with a blast round the Lilea Super Special on Thursday evening, the rally starts in earnest on Friday 4 June at 0630hrs. Contested over three days, the demanding event will include 22 stages and 377.12 competitive kilometres. The longest test, the Elatia stage at 32.55km, will be used for SS3 and SS13, while the shortest, the Lilea- Parnassos Super Special at 2.25km, will be used for SS1, SS9 and SS16. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp back in Lamia at 1453hrs on Sunday 6 June.
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Greece, which will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Mikko Hirvonen (co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen).
Having achieved two podium finishes in the last three years, Petter Solberg will be aiming to score his first win in Greece on this year's Acropolis Rally. Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen has contested the event only once before. He will be aiming to secure more Championship points, while continuing his development programme with the team and gaining further experience of the Impreza WRC2004.
"Cyprus was really good fun as always. It was very, very rough on the stages and not as warm as we expected, but everything worked well for us apart from the incident on Friday. I was hoping to have collected more points, but I'm pleased to have got some and enjoyed the rally generally. I was very happy with the set-up of the car in Cyprus I must say, and we've only changed some small things ahead of Greece. My strategy for the next event will be the same as for Cyprus, although I'm not telling you exactly what it is! My starting position of fourth on the road is not too bad either. When I was fourth on the road in Cyprus, Marcus (Gronholm) was twelfth and my times were not far off. The Subaru has good traction and a good set up for the conditions in Greece and as my main rivals will be running in front of me, on Leg one anyway, it should be a good fight. The competition on rough rallies has definitely stepped up this year. Other teams have improved and you need high speed all the time now to beat the top drivers. There's no room for any mistakes."
"It was quite difficult in Cyprus and I didn't really find as much speed as I would have liked. But the car felt strong and we tried some new settings during the event, which felt very good indeed. While Greece is a similar event to Cyprus in many ways, the stages are faster and a little wider, so I think I'll enjoy driving more there. It will definitely be hot, and that can make it tough, but the stages are more flowing. I'll be driving to the same strategy - getting more experience of the event and the car, and hopefully finding some more speed."
David Lapworth, Team Principal
"Before Cyprus, we said that our target was to come out of the four events, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and Argentina, having scored more points than any of our rivals. Obviously we have work to do over the next three events and we'll be going for the win in Greece. It should be a good fight. We've now had three different winners on the last three rallies and seen stages in New Zealand and Cyprus where the top four cars were separated by less than a second. We expect it to be a similar story over the next couple of events."
"Similar in character to Cyprus, Greece is one of the toughest events in the Championship. It's hot, rough and hard on tyres. Average speeds are generally higher here than in Cyprus (82kph compared to 67kph in 2003), but the prevalence of twisty stages run in temperatures of more than 30C will mean cooling is always a consideration. As far as the new Subaru is concerned, overall we were happy with its performance in Cyprus. Petter took six stage wins and we were pleased with how it worked on the roughest sections. The radiator incident during Leg one was unfortunate, but we've taken steps that we believe will prevent a recurrence, and the fact that we were able to use the last two days as a test session for Greece was useful. We've made some slight set-up adjustments and are confident we're going in the right direction."
"Every rally to some extent is about tyres, but I think they are likely to be the major performance factor in Greece - especially their ability to last through grouped stages. Our Pirelli's are traditionally very strong, but Michelin is introducing a new tyre in Greece and it will be interesting to see if its response to Pirelli's dominance of the event for the last few years is effective. On the Acropolis it's all about finding the ideal balance between tyre grip and tyre-wear. In simple terms, soft compounds give more grip but wear more quickly, hard compounds give less grip but last longer. Every tyre manufacturer is trying to find a better compromise, but of course it's hard to find a compromise between those two contradictory factors."
Between the Rallies
After spending a day meeting staff at the Subaru World Rally Team's headquarters in Banbury, UK, Petter Solberg flew to Canada to take part in an event with the country's main Subaru distributor.
On hand to give 'hot laps' to some of Canada's top automotive journalists, who were being introduced to the all-new 2005 Subaru Legacy and Outback, the reigning World Champion added his usual sparkle and made sure they all had the ride of their lives when he took them for a spin in a new turbo-charged Legacy GT.
He then returned home for a well-deserved holiday with wife Pernilla and son, Oliver. This included a visit to a theme park, some light training and a lot of saunas. The Subaru champ also took time to catch up with his friend, Tommi Makinen.
Mikko Hirvonen returned to his hometown of Jyvaskyla in Finland after Cyprus. Making a change to his usual training regime, the Finn enjoyed some time kayaking on the Finnish lakes. He also helped his sister by looking after the latest addition to the Hirvonen family - her son, and his three-month old nephew, Miiro.