Master of the Acropolis: Hänninen powers to SWRC Victory
Finnish pairing Juho Hänninen and Mikko Markkula expertly navigated their Škoda Fabia S2000 to victory on the fourth round of the 2011 FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship this weekend at Acropolis Rally of Greece. A confident Day One left Hänninen lying in second and thrown into competition once again with thenleader Ott Tänak (EST, Ford). After a phenomenally quick time through SS1 gave 2011 Dakar winner Nasser AL-Attiyah (QAT, Ford) an early lead, the Qatari lost his power steering, allowing Tänak to storm ahead. Straight off the back of a mesmerising win in Italy, Tänak wowed crowds again on his Greek debut with the relentless pace for which he has become renowned, ploughing sideways across the rocky terrain unphased by the difficult and unfamiliar stages and ending the day with a lead of nearly 30 seconds.
Determined to pursue his own rally and refusing to be tempted into a battle for the lead which might risk damage to his Škoda, Hänninen sat in second unconcerned by his young rival’s early pace. When Tänak then rolled on SS7, the opening stage of Day Two, the Estonian lost over 15 minutes and despite completing the stage, he had to retire on the road section to SS8 when dust blocked his air filter. This promoted Hänninen into the lead and from then on the experienced Finn didn’t look back. Powering through each stage of Day Two, Hänninen’s focus never faltered and he ended the day over four minutes ahead of second placed Bernardo Sousa (PRT, Ford). Free of competition, Hänninen focused hard on the final day not to lose concentration and swept through the stages to victory, winning by nearly five minutes, picking up maximum SWRC points, finishing eighth overall to claim four WRC points and sealing a 14 point lead in the SWRC standings.
After victory in Jordan, his first nominated round of the 2011 SWRC season, Sousa unfortunately retired in Italy, but returned this weekend focused on claiming as many Championship points as possible and determined to make it through the challenging stages unperturbed by the difficult conditions. He did just that. He put in strong times throughout, refusing to succumb to distractions such as a rear left puncture on SS7or a broken rear left driveshaft three corners into SS13, the Day Two night stage. Fortunately, he even escaped with only superficial damage when he lost the road on SS8 and scraped the front-right of his Fiesta on a tree. The 18 SWRC points he earned himself for finishing in second, moved him into third in the SWRC standings, despite having contended one less round than second placed Martin Prokop (CZE, Ford).
The final place on the podium went to 6-times Hungarian Touring Car Champion Frigyes Turán (HUN, Ford). After back-to-back retirements on his first two nominated rounds of the SWRC season, Turán came to Greece with the same strategy as Hänninen and Sousa – drive his own event and conquer the tough Greek stages to make it to the end of the rally. He successfully achieved this, but not without a battle with young Škoda driver Hermann Gassner (DEU). When Tänak’s retirement was followed by then-fourth placed Eyvind Brynildsen’s (NOR, Škoda) retirement from Day Two due to a broken suspension on SS11, Turán and Gassner jockeyed for position throughout the remaining tests. It was the Hungarian who triumphed, but Gassner was pleased to finish fourth on his Greek debut and gain vital experience on the treacherous stages.
While Tänak was the only one of the ten strong field to retire from the event completely, 2009 JWRC Champion Prokop was the final SWRC competitor to complete all the stages without retirement, coming home fifth and earning 10 vital SWRC points to retain second position in the Championship standings. Meanwhile the sheer speed of Al-Attiyah, whose Day One trials left him in sixth in the SWRC at the end of the rally, made it impossible for him to go unnoticed as he topped both the series sprinter standings and picking up 12 stage wins out of 18.
1st – Juho Hänninen (FIN): “A good weekend. The rally was very rough and hard in places, but I owe big thanks to my team, because the Fabia’s been working well the whole weekend. It’s a good result. It wasn’t easy, but we’re here. We have a strong position in the Championship now, but even my home rally in Finland won’t be easy. Fortunately for me, my team make difficult rallying like this much easier though.”
2nd – Bernardo Sousa (PRT): “Finally the rally’s finished! Everything’s gone according to plan. Other than the driveshaft last night, it’s been a perfect weekend, no problems with the car. We will be in Finland for the first time on the next round, so my plan is to gain experience.”
3rd – Frigyes Turán (HUN): “We are very happy. One of my dreams came true. Thanks for the experience, thanks to the Hungarian spectators who came here and thank you to the Greek organisers who made this happen. It’s a dream.”