Round six of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Greece, begins next Thursday, when 90 competitors will cross the ceremonial start ramp in front of the Acropolis in Athens at 1930hrs. One of the oldest rallies in the Championship,...
Round six of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Greece, begins next Thursday, when 90 competitors will cross the ceremonial start ramp in front of the Acropolis in Athens at 1930hrs. One of the oldest rallies in the Championship, this year marks its 50th anniversary.
Mixing rough and twisty mountain roads, searing temperatures and choking dust, the event presents a series of tough challenges for both car and driver. Cars must be at optimum strength to endure the rock-strewn stages, while drivers need to be at peak physical condition to cope with the scorching summer temperatures of up to 40ºC.
This year's event comprises 398.63 competitive kilometres, split over 22 stages. The route for Legs one and two is similar to last year's, however Leg three is new and features three brand new stages in the Timphristos Mountain region. For the first time, the event will also include a Super Special stage and around 10,000 spectators are expected to watch the 2km head to head action at Lilea on Friday and Saturday night.
2003 also sees the rally base move from Delphi to the city of Lamia, 210km north of Athens, with a single service park, media centre and parc ferme located in the Lamia National Trade Center. Following the gruelling three-day event, the winning crew is expected to cross the finish ramp in Lamia at 1620hrs on Sunday 8 June.
Regular 555 SWRT drivers Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg are entered to drive Subaru Impreza WRC2003's in the Acropolis Rally of Greece. Both are eligible to score Manufacturers' points for the team.
Although outright victory has eluded Tommi and Petter in Greece to date, both have scored credible second positions there. Tommi took the silver in 1996, while Petter, competing on the tough Greek terrain for the first time in a Subaru, claimed second in 2001. Both finished within a minute of the leader.
Team tyre partner Pirelli have an impressive record in Greece, having come out on top four times in the last five years. This, twinned with a terrain that's well suited to the Impreza, means that both 555 SWRT drivers will be pushing hard for their maiden Greek win in 2003.
Petter Solberg: "The Impreza is very good in the conditions in Greece - the tyres and car have worked well in the past and cope excellently with the gravel roads. I've always been quick so will definitely be trying for a good result. My experience of the Safari Rally helps as it is so extreme - Greece is almost like a smaller version. The next few rallies are very important for the Championship and fortunately, are my favourites. It's been difficult to prepare myself for the physical challenges of Greece but I will try to relax a bit when I get there to get myself into the rhythm."
Tommi Mäkinen: "Obviously the temperatures and extreme conditions make everything harder, but for me it is not usually a serious problem. Rough conditions have always been good for me and hopefully Greece this year should be no different. I am looking forward to the three new stages - it's good to have some variety. I've done some testing since Argentina on the new dampers and the feeling is getting better and better. I'm confident that everything's in place ahead of Greece and it should be a good event."
The Car / The Challenge
555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth: "With the loss of the Safari Rally from the WRC, Greece is now the toughest event in the championship, and followed by Cyprus, it's the first of two successive, potentially very demanding events. The stages are very rough and twisty and that brings the speeds down, I expect that we'll see a rally average of around 85kph. As far as the car set-up is concerned, in Greece we're going to try some different settings on our new dampers after an encouraging introduction in Argentina. On the last event we took a more conservative approach, using well-proven settings while we evaluated their endurance. I think the biggest challenge in Greece will be tyre wear, especially as recent rainfall could make the stages even more rough and cut up than usual, but the Pirelli's are traditionally very strong there. They've been the winning choice four times in the last five Acropolis events - and that's certainly a positive for us."
Between the Rallies
Since returning from Argentina, Tommi and his partner Eliisa have been at home in Finland celebrating the birth of their second son, Makinen Junior (they haven't chosen a name just yet). Recovering from a minor leg injury, picked up in a motocross accident before Argentina, Tommi has been relaxing as much as possible to be back at 100% fitness for Greece. Unfortunately, his house isn't the most peaceful place to be just now, as Makinen Junior hasn't been sleeping too well at nights. But with his sights set on a good result in the car, and a good night's sleep in his hotel bed, Tommi is especially keen to get to Greece this year, "It'll be a holiday when I get back to work," he said.
Meanwhile, Hollywood Solberg's been dazzling them again in America. On this occasion Petter spent a week in Miami on a Subaru promotional tour to mark the launch of the new Impreza STi version in the USA. During the trip Petter was star guest at a function for 1,200 Subaru dealers and as part of the launch, put a brand new STI through its paces on Miami beach! He then flew from Miami to Monaco for a weekend break before Greece.
Tommi, Petter and team test driver Pasi Hagström, were also involved in a five-day development test in Château Lastours and Andorra from 15 to 20 May. Part of the team's long-term R&D programme, work concentrated on evaluating suspension and drive-train components.