The Event Round seven of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship, The Acropolis Rally of Greece, gets underway next Thursday when 89 cars, the largest number of entries so far this year, cross the ceremonial start ramp in front of the Zappion...
Round seven of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship, The Acropolis Rally of Greece, gets underway next Thursday when 89 cars, the largest number of entries so far this year, cross the ceremonial start ramp in front of the Zappion palace in Athens.
Mixing the hottest weather and some of the rockiest stages of the season, the Acropolis has a fearsome reputation as one of the toughest events in the championship for both the cars and drivers alike. The twisty, tight mountain roads also make this one of the slowest events in the season.
Based in the seaside town of Itea, 190kms west of Athens, the event comprises three legs, 16 rock-strewn stages and 392 competitive kilometres. The route is based around a single service point in Lilea, Parnassos, whilst the Rally Headquarters will be based in Itea town centre.
In addition to marking the midway point of the WRC season, Greece is also the third round of the 2002 FIA Junior World Rally Championship.
Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg will both drive Subaru Impreza WRC2002's in Greece. The rally will also see the 2002 555 Subaru World Rally Team debut of Japan's leading WRC competitor Toshihiro Arai and his co-driver Tony Sircombe. All three crews will be eligible to score manufacturers points for Subaru.
A seasoned Acropolis competitor, and winner of 24 WRC events, Tommi Makinen is still looking for his first win in Greece, his best result so far was a close second in 1996. Petter's best Acropolis finish is also 2nd, which he achieved last year, and until he equalled that place last month in Argentina it was the best WRC finish of his career. A relative newcomer, Toshi Arai has driven a WRC car just once in Greece - he drove an Impreza in 2001 but retired on the first day.
"The smash in Argentina was a very big one. I still have some bruising from the belts and as I hit my crash helmet quite hard my head was hurting quite a lot. But I have been relaxing since coming home, I've had a lot of massages and am feeling much better. I'm feeling pretty confident for Greece because our performance was encouraging in Argentina and we seem to be improving with each rally. If you look at Greece last year the Pirelli tyre was performing very well in hot and difficult conditions, so we should go well. We are pre-event testing later this week and everything is looking very good."
"We have to try to do the same and push as we did in Argentina. I am really looking forward to it but I know that many other teams will also push hard and want to win, I will try hard anyway. I hope everything will go well. It is a difficult rally but one that I like and have done well on before. We have the speed and the reliability - now we just need that little bit of luck."
"I am very much looking forward to the rally for many reasons. Greece is a good event for me, I've had good finishes there in Group N cars, I like hot rallies and last year was quite encouraging. It will be good to get back in a World Rally car. I have done some testing and the new set up is an improvement over last year, it's easier to drive, very comfortable and overall a very good car. I will be doing some pre-event testing and I think things are looking good for me."
With outside temperatures expected to be in excess of 30°c and cockpit temperatures of around 60°c, the 555 Subaru World Rally Team drivers have an uncomfortable challenge ahead of them in Greece, especially as they will be spending up to 12 hours a day in their cars.
All three crews are already in Delphi taking part in an acclimatisation training camp to get them used to the high temperatures prior to the competition. Tommi, Kaj, Petter, Phil, Toshi and Tony are training with the 555 SWRT Human Performance team and are working to increase their stamina and fitness by taking part in a variety of activities such as cycling, swimming and running.
As a result of the huge temperature in the cockpit, the drivers' core body temperatures are expected to rise, on average, about 1°C above the normal 37°C. If this were to happen under normal circumstances, it would signal that you probably had the flu... The associated fluid loss can affect levels of driver concentration and keeping them properly hydrated and alert is of paramount importance. Each driver is expected to require at least 10 litres of mineral-enriched fluid each day to avoid dehydration.
The physical strain of negotiating the twisty Greek stages also cannot be underestimated. Drivers will be subjected to lot of upper body strain and the team's physiotherapist will give each driver a 30-minute massage at the end of each day to keep them on top form - as well as being available during every service for on-the-spot treatments.
Despite being classed as a gravel event, the Greek stages are littered with rocks and boulders, which can destroy tyres and cause structural damage to the cars. 555 Subaru Team Principal, David Lapworth, explained the challenge:
"It's quite similar to Cyprus in many respects, but the Acropolis presents us with a very tough set of conditions that I think are harder on the car. The stages can be relatively smooth in places but then switch to extremely rough sections. This is definitely the sternest test for a standard gravel specification car. But I think that the performance of Petter and Tommi's cars in Cyprus demonstrated that the Impreza WRC2002 is very strong on these sort of stages. We did some testing in April to evaluate new components for Cyprus, Argentina and Greece and depending on how our pre-event testing goes we may well introduce some of these developments next week. Like we saw in Cyprus, tyres will be a crucial factor, especially their ability to last through grouped stages. We were very happy with the performance of our Pirelli's last time out, and we're hoping for that sort of result again in Greece."
Between the Rallies
On returning home following their huge accident in Argentina, Tommi Makinen and Kaj Lindström both underwent a series of tests with their doctors in Finland. Both were given the all clear and, apart from some bruising, they are in excellent form ahead of the Acropolis Rally.
Both were full of praise for the way their Impreza stood up to the multiple impacts and despite sustaining forces of around 10g and rolling more than 8 times the drivers safety cell remained intact and protected the drivers perfectly. Tommi and Kaj were so impressed they sent a letter to the team's designers and technicians thanking them for their expertise in producing such a remarkable car.
Understandably Tommi has been taking it easy over the last few weeks, spending some time on his boat at a nearby lake and relaxing at home. His co-driver Kaj however managed to get out to the golf course and reckoned that the accident hadn't affected his game at all!
After stomach problems troubled him in Argentina, Petter flew back to Norway and was immediately struck-down with flu. He did some light training but mainly concentrated on getting fully recovered in time for Greece. Two weeks ago he got together with a hundred of his family and friends to celebrate the christening of his son, Oliver, who is now almost nine months old. Since Argentina, Petter has taken delivery of another new baby - a GM Hummer H1 - to add to his collection of cars.
Phil Mills, has been taking advantage of the team's health and fitness facilities in the UK and visited team headquarters in Banbury for some intensive training before flying out to Greece. He also travelled with a group of team personnel to watch the Formula 1 testing session at Silverstone circuit as a VIP guest of British American Racing.
This weekend the three crews will take part in a three-day pre-event test in Greece. Petter is at the wheel of the WRC2002 test car today, Tommi on Friday and Toshi will drive on Sunday.