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Rally Greece WRC (P) - 12-14 Jun 09

Posted: August 5, 2009 11:07 AM - 6737 Hits

Round 7 - 2009 FIA World Rally Championship

Al-Attiyah excluded from Acropolis Rally of Greece

Posted: August 5, 2009 11:07 AM

Following a FIA stewards’ decision, published during the Neste Oil Rally Finland, Barwa Rally Team driver Nasser Al- Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) has been excluded from the results of the Acropolis Rally of Greece (12-14 June) for an alleged technical infringement. The Barwa Rally Team has appealed the decision and therefore these changes remain provisional, pending an appeal to be heard by the FIA’s Court of Appeal (at a date to be announced).

Following the amended event results, Al-Attiyah has lost the lead in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship. Al-Attiyah provisionally finished 2nd in the P-WRC standings in Greece, 22.3 seconds behind Lambros Athanassoulas (GR, Skoda), to score eight championship points and move four points ahead of Armindo Araújo (P, Mitsubishi) at the top of the drivers’ table.

The amended result of the Acropolis Rally of Greece sees Al-Attiyah lose the eight points he scored, while Araújo gains two points by moving from 3rd to 2nd in the rally classification. All other finishers move up one position, with points reallocated as appropriate (see amended rally results and championship points tables below). Araújo now takes the lead in the P-WRC, six points ahead of Al-Attiyah, who drops to 2nd. The next championship round will be Repco Rally Australia on 4-6 September.

Hirvonen / Lehtinen win in Greece as Ford claims landmark victory

Posted: June 16, 2009 4:03 PM

Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen won the Acropolis Rally of Greece today to secure Ford's 70th world rally victory. The Finns won this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the toughest encounter in the 12-event series, by 1min 12.9sec in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team colleagues Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were third in another Focus RS WRC to secure maximum points in the manufacturers' series for the Blue Oval.

Between them Hirvonen and Latvala led from start to finish of the three-day event to secure Ford's seventh win in 10 seasons in Greece. It was also the 40th world rally win for M-Sport, Ford's partner in the WRC and the British-based preparation company which runs the programme. It completed a perfect weekend for team director Malcolm Wilson, who received an OBE in The Queen's Birthday Honours list yesterday.

The result, the team's second consecutive victory following Latvala's success in Italy last month, rejuvenated its challenge in both championships. Ford is now just 15 points from the lead in the manufacturers' standings and second-placed Hirvonen has closed the gap in the drivers' series to just seven points.

Rock-strewn and abrasive gravel roads west of Athens and blistering temperatures, which topped 36ºC, ensured this year's event lived up to its gruelling reputation. It was a rally of attrition and a long string of frontrunners fell by the wayside during the 15 speed tests covering 341.01km (two tests were cancelled). However, neither Focus RS WRC missed a beat and both drivers looked after their cars and Pirelli's Scorpion tyres superbly, mixing pace with caution in the tough conditions.

Latvala led from the start before falling to 11th when he slid into a ditch on the last special stage of the opening day. Hirvonen was promoted into top spot but was fearful of running first in the start order yesterday, sweeping the gravel from the road surface to offer cleaner and faster conditions to his pursuers. However, as others struggled, Hirvonen stretched his lead and Latvala charged back to third. Both drove at a measured pace on today's short final leg to seal a memorable weekend.

"I drove a clever rally and my plan worked perfectly, with no mistakes and no punctures," said 28-year-old Hirvonen. "I knew that if we finished the rally without problems then we would be high in the order and that was the case. The key to success was to stay on the road and be cautious rather than drive flat out all the way. The car was amazing all weekend, especially the last stage which was so rough. I was fortunate to have such a large lead that I was able to drive steadily.

"We're back in the championship fight and the final five rallies of the year will be exciting. The next two events, in Poland and Finland, are on fast gravel roads which should suit me," he added.

Latvala admitted he was relieved to climb back onto the podium. "I thought I had lost everything on Friday evening. A place on the podium was never in my dreams but others made mistakes and their cars broke and that's exactly what I achieved. My strategy yesterday was to save the tyres, save the car and drive round the rocks and it paid off. This rally required respect and the result is so important for me and the team from the championship perspective," said the 24-year-old Finn.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished sixth in the team's third Focus RS WRC, a career best result for the 37-year-old Emirati driver.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "It was a masterful drive from Mikko. Although he led after the first day, we were worried about the effect his start position would have on Saturday, but he knew exactly what to do and did it to perfection. Jari-Matti did a great job after his error and capitalised on the mistakes of others. It's the first time a Focus RS WRC has won a world rally with an engine built entirely at M-Sport, and that's a proud achievement. Our championship hopes were written off before Sardinia but we didn't give up and we're back in the fight."

John Fleming, Chairman and CEO of Ford of Europe received the manufacturers' trophy on the podium before saying: "Rallies don’t come any tougher than the Acropolis and to win the most demanding round of the WRC for the seventh time in 10 years is a fantastic achievement. To take two podium places and position four of our Focus RS WRCs in the top six is further testament to its strength, reliability and speed."

Citroen Round Up

Posted: June 16, 2009 4:01 PM

Villagra/Diaz victorious in final day Acropolis battle

Posted: June 16, 2009 3:59 PM

Munchi’s Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra equalled his best ever FIA World Rally Championship performance with a fantastic fourth place at the Acropolis Rally of Greece, the seventh round of the championship. The Argentine driver thrilled fans as his battle with Citroen Junior driver Conrad Rautenbach for fourth place came right down to the last stage of the event.

The seven-time Argentine champion put the disappointment of Rally d’Italia Sardegna, where he and co-driver Jorge Perez Companc failed to finish, behind him as he produced a virtually flawless performance on his way to fourth place.

Villagra, with Jose Diaz taking over Jorge Perez Companc’s job in the co-driver’s seat, had a steady start to the rally on Friday morning as the crews made their way through 119.37kms of classic Acropolis Rally stages to the north of Rally HQ in Loutraki. With rough, rocky roads climbing high into the Parnassus mountains, avoiding damage to the car was paramount and Villagra used all of his knowledge to avoid the pitfalls that caught out other drivers.

He lost a few seconds on the slippery SS4 Bauxites, sliding off at a hairpin. But a stunning time on the final stage of day one, the 23.76km SS6 Thiva, moved him up to seventh place overall giving him excellent road position going into the tricky stages on day two.

Day two featured three new stages for the Acropolis Rally with the drivers facing two passes over the loop to the south-west of Service Park in Peloponnese region. While the front-runners were slowed as they cleared the loose gravel, those coming after were tested by the large rocks on the stages.

Villagra posted consistent top-ten times on the morning loop avoiding any major problems but again showed some good pace in the afternoon as he tussled for position with Rautenbach. A fifth place on SS11 Ghymno moved him up to fifth place overall and boosted his chase to equal his best ever WRC finish on the final day.

The fight for position with Rautenbach continued on day three. Mechanical problems for Evgeny Novikov moved Villagra up to fourth early on, but Zimbabwean Rautenbach was hot on his heels and by the midway point of the day had closed the gap to just 0.9 seconds.

The cancellation of the penultimate stage of the rally meant that everything would be decided on the second pass over the 33km Aghii Teordori test and Villagra prevailed, preserving his tyres well on the abrasive roads to edge out Rautenbach by 11.5 seconds.

Villagra remains in eighth place in the drivers’ standings but is now just one place behind Matthew Wilson and has already exceeded his points total for the whole of last season.

Meanwhile former Munchi’s Ford driver and team sponsor Luis Perez Companc was in action in another classic motorsport event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving a Ferrari F430 GT for the AF Corse team, Companc and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni and Matias Russo finished 26th overall.

Munchi’s Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra said:
“It’s fantastic to get another fourth place to add to the one from my home rally in Argentina. We had to work really hard for this one but it’s a special feeling to finish fourth on this classic event. The stages here were very tough and also very difficult, especially the ones on Saturday. We spent most of the first day getting a diff setting that we were happy with as I wanted to work on getting more traction. There are lots of sections with loose gravel and bedrock and it’s important to have good traction and to think about preserving the tyres through the long stages.

“The second pass over the stages was difficult and we had to be clever to know where to push and where to back off. In some places the speed of the stages changes a lot and it’s hard to find a nice flow and to concentrate. The heat has made it difficult but we have been in a good fight with Conrad and that has helped to push us on. We have had a few good results on some of the last rallies and now we have a break until Finland.”

P-WRC Round Up

Posted: June 16, 2009 3:09 PM

Two points for Neiksans in Acropolis car-breaker

Posted: June 16, 2009 12:58 PM

The LMT Rally Team collected two points following their 7th place finish in the Production car World Rally Championship category of last weekend’s Acropolis Rally of Greece. After three tough days, Andis Neiksans and Peteris Dzirkals were delighted to score some points after non-scoring finishes in the previous rounds in Portugal and Italy.

The first day of the Greek event began with some small problems for the Latvian crew. The engine was overheating and they had to drive the whole day with the interior heater on, to provide more circulation for the cooling system. With an ambient temperature of 40 degrees C, this was a nightmare – the interior temperature climbed as high as 70 degrees C! Moreover, they were forced to use safe engine settings without the anti-lag system, which meant a lot of lost time and 10th position in P-WRC after Day One.

With the overheating problems solved for Day 2, Neiksans began to drive faster and ended the day in 6th position. “We were driving very carefully,” he said. “Our mission was to preserve the car and tyres and we did exactly that. It was amazing to watch Saturday’s last service; it was like a war scene! Everyone was rushing around doing extensive repair work on their cars. Our AMP Motorsport mechanics seemed to be the only ones doing routine work. Nothing was broken on the car; we just carried out some suspension arm changes but that was done in every service – that is the nature of the Acropolis rally.”

The third day began with a slim 17-second advantage over 7th placed Portugese driver Bernardo Sousa for the LMT team and before the last special stage, this had grown to 23 seconds. The team put four used tyres on for the last loop and had taken two new ones as spares. Unfortunately, the jack failed during the tyre change before the last stage, so Neiksans had to start the stage with one used tyre on. That proved to be a decider in the battle with Sousa, as the used tyre was completely worn out by mid-stage and Neiksans had to drive super-carefully not to puncture it. By the end of the rally, Sousa had turned the deficit into a 13-second advantage over the Latvian crew, demoting them to 7th.

“It would have been great to finish ahead of Bernardo but we had this problem with the tyre. By pushing hard we would have risked a puncture and that could potentially mean retirement, as we no longer had a jack. A third non-score in a row would have been a disaster. We are happy with 7th place because now we are tied 7th in the overall standings and are still the highest-placed P-WRC rookies. Now we will have a long break – we will only return to P-WRC action at the end of October in Great Britain. Until then we will do two rounds of the Latvian National Championship – we have not competed in Latvia so far this year!” said Neiksans.

No luck for Nick Thomas in Acropolis Rally

Posted: June 16, 2009 12:57 PM

We had a very short rally in Greece, it was so unfortunate. The Acropolis Rally was an event where I really thought we could show what we could do. On the first stage I felt we made a sensible time, we were second quickest of the Pirelli Star drivers team behind Jarkko Nikara. Then on the second stage we started to have trouble with the gearbox. In the end only second gear was left, and when we realised that even second gear was not working properly and had a problem, we had no choice but to stop and ask our Ralliart Italy team to retrieve the car.

Because of the FIA’s SupeRally rules we were allowed to start the second day, and then we ha d a different problem. On the road section out to the start of the first stage of the day we found that the throttle would not close properly, the engine kept running too fast, but anyway we lined up to start the stage on time. Then I noticed the engine was overheating and I saw that smoke or steam was coming out of the exhaust pipe. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X has a facility of reverting to “safe mode” which means it can be driven slowly in an emergency, so we were able to reach the end of the stage. Obviously we were not going to go any further.

So, the rally was over. My father drove out to collect me and my codriver Stephane Prevot, and the t eam came along with a trailer to collect the car. Not my best rally memory!

Results

Posted: June 16, 2009 12:56 PM

1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 09min 42.5sec
2. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Citroen C4 4hr 10min 55.4sec
3. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 11min 27.5sec
4. F Villagra/J Perez Companc ARG Ford Focus RS 4hr 13min 30.8sec
5. C Rautenbach/D Barritt ZIM Citroen C4 4hr 13min 42.3sec
6. K Al Qassimi/M Orr UAE Ford Focus RS 4hr 16min 46.8sec
7. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Subaru Impreza 4hr 22min 07.4sec
8. L Athanassoulas/N Zakheos GRC Skoda Fabia 4hr 22min 30.1sec
9. N Al-Attiyah/G Bernacchini QAT Subaru Impreza 4hr 22min 52.4sec
10 A Araujo/M Ramalho POR Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 24min 47.0sec

Full Results:

Video & Audio: Loeb's Crash

Posted: June 13, 2009 10:30 PM

Shakedown Video Clips

Posted: June 11, 2009 10:58 PM

Citroen Sport Previews

Posted: June 7, 2009 7:20 PM

Ford duo strives to keep the heat turned up in Greece

Posted: June 7, 2009 7:15 PM

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team journeys to the toughest round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Greece next week intent on building on last month's one-two finish in Italy and extending its excellent record on one of the series' classic fixtures. The Acropolis Rally of Greece (11 - 14 June) is round seven of the championship and marks the beginning of the second half of the 12-round campaign.

Following victory for Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila and second place for Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen across the Mediterranean Sea in Sardinia last month, the team heads to Greece full of confidence. However, both pairings know that the challenges posed by the Acropolis will be greater than any encountered in the opening six rounds.

Success in Greece demands a blend of strength, reliability and speed. Rocky mountain tracks and punishing heat are the hallmarks of a rally that offers a new-look for 2009 but will doubtless maintain its traditional characteristics. It is a trial in which the record-breaking Ford Focus RS World Rally car has excelled, with six wins during the last nine seasons.

The gravel speed tests west of Athens have a fearsome reputation. Cars must withstand severe punishment from loose rocks which litter the surface of the mountain tracks, as well as bedrock which forms the base of the roads. Temperatures are likely to be well above 30ºC, placing high demands on engines and gearboxes. Because the winding, climbing roads and many hairpin bends make this a relatively slow rally (only Turkey was slower in 2008), there is little cooling from the flow of air.

Drivers and co-drivers can expect a tough weekend for the same reasons. There is no cooling inside the cars during special stages so cockpit temperatures are high and fitness plays a crucial role. Regular fluid intake is vital to stave off dehydration and ensure the crew operates at peak performance.

This will be the sixth Acropolis start for 28-year-old Hirvonen, who finished third in both 2006 and 2008, so the Finn has plenty of experience of what lies ahead.

"Conditions are likely to be very similar to Sardinia, but rougher," he said. "There are so many new stages this year that it's almost like tackling a new rally. I seem to do well on new rallies, so I hope the same is true here. Acropolis is so tough that it's probably the only event in the season where a driver must think seriously about protecting the car. It's still flat out all the way, but I must be careful where I brake and give some thought to looking after the tyres.

"I feel the heat most before stage starts, both when I'm changing tyres and also sitting in the car with my seat belts and helmet on, waiting for three or four minutes to start a stage. There is no air getting into the car. On the stages themselves air comes into the car, and I'm so concentrated on driving and listening to Jarmo reading the pace notes that it doesn't feel so bad," added Hirvonen.

Latvala has five previous starts to his name and the 24-year-old Finn is bursting with confidence after his win in Sardinia. "This is the toughest and roughest round of the WRC," he said. "After winning in Sardinia, I want to fight for another win in Greece. But the most important thing is to start steadily, rather than at full attack, and monitor the pace of the others. That's the clever way to do it. It will also be interesting to see what advantage might be gained from road position. I have a good start position on Friday but I won't know until the recce just how much gravel there is on Saturday's new stages.

"There are many new roads and it will be important to stay concentrated during the recce when we make our pace notes. Greece isn't a fast rally compared with Finland, for example, and it's easier to make notes when the roads are faster than when they are slower. On slower roads there is a temptation to put in too much information, whereas on faster roads there is less detail. It's important to learn how to handle the heat before the rally. I will go for a run or for a cycle ride to get used to it. Staying inside, away from the sunshine in the air conditioning, is the wrong way to do it," he added.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive a third Focus RS WRC. Greece was not part of their programme but they will now contest this event instead of Rally Poland. "The weekend is huge for Abu Dhabi motorsport. While my eyes will be firmly focused on the gravel roads in Greece, my thoughts will also be with our fellow Abu Dhabi teams competing in the Red Bull Air Race and F1 Powerboat Championships in Canada and Finland. We endured a huge amount of bad lack in Sardinia and I hope similar conditions in Greece will be kinder to us. It's a great chance to challenge for points because we were actually rallying very well in the same conditions in Sardinia," said Al Qassimi.

Team News
* Tyre partner Pirelli will provide BP Ford Abu Dhabi with just the one regulation tyre pattern. The Scorpion gravel tyre will be available in hard compound only. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber and each car can carry two spare wheels.

* Three other Focus RS WRCs will start. Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated by the Stobart VK M-Sport squad, while Federico Villagra / José Diaz are nominated by the Munchi's Ford team.

* Latvala last weekend drove his privately-entered Mk2 Ford Escort RS1800 to victory in Finland's Lahti Historic Rally, fifth round of the FIA European Historic Rally Championship. Latvala is a huge fan of rallying's history but had never driven an Escort, one of the sport's most successful cars, in competition. Partnered by Asko Sairanen, he won the two-day rally by 1min 15.4sec after 12 stages covering 126km. "I lost second and third gears on the opening stage but because Finnish roads are so fast I was able to use first gear for junctions and fourth and fifth for the other sections," said Latvala.

Stobart prepare for arduous Acropolis action

Posted: June 7, 2009 7:14 PM

Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg head to Greece next week for the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, hoping that the gods will be smiling on them as they look to maintain the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team’s momentum in the championship.  

With half of the season gone the Stobart team have secured both driver and manufacturer points on every rally so far this year with the reliability of the Ford Focus RS WRC helping them to third place in the manufacturer standings.  And with both drivers on course for their best ever finish in the drivers’ championship, hopes are high that the form set in the first half of the year will continue.  

After the high temperatures experienced in Sardinia last month the mercury is set to rise even higher in Greece.  With the heat set to hit 45 degrees inside the car this is undoubtedly one of the most physically challenging events for the crews.  

This year the rally has moved to the coastal town of Loutraki, 85kms west of the Greek capital Athens, after it won a country-wide contest to host the event.  And with 371.02kms of gravel stages in the hills and mountains around the Gulf of Corinth, the ability to cope with the extreme temperatures rather than knowledge of the roads could count more towards the result.  

Loutraki, with its vast natural springs and thermal spas, is a town well used to hosting large numbers of visitors, but thousands of fans are expected to turn out to catch a glimpse of the rally cars as they tackle one of the classic rallies on the WRC calendar.  

Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud have a good record at the Acropolis Rally having finished fifth in Greece twice in recent years, although an electrical problem on the final day of last year’s event robbed them of a podium finish.  Meanwhile Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin finished sixth last year, and as one of the fittest crews competing in the championship the young Brits should be well-placed to cope with the sweltering heat.  

The rally is also set to be particularly hard on the Pirelli Scorpion control tyres as the effects of the rough, abrasive road surface are compounded by the sweltering heat.  

It all kicks off with a spectacular ceremonial start on a bridge over the historic Corinth Canal on Thursday night before the 47 entrants head north the following morning to the Peloponnese region for 140.4kms of rough and twisty mountain stages.  Some of these stages have been used on previous editions of the Acropolis Rally but much of the competitive terrain is new this time around.  There will be a remote service in the town of Itea providing an extra challenge for all of the teams as limited spares and only 15 minutes of servicing mean there won’t be time for major repairs.  

Day two sees the crews head south to take on two passes of a three-stage loop covering 135.36kms of winding stages where the rocky surface will provide a stern test for the cars and drivers.  

However, one of the biggest challenges of the rally awaits the drivers on the final day as they face two passes over the longest stage of the event, the 33km Aghii Theodori test, which are included in the 95km final day before the drivers reach the finish ramp back in Loutraki.  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team news since Rally d’Italia Sardegna
Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin have continued their training at home in Cumbria to ensure they are prepared for the soaring temperatures in Greece.  Matthew has also been involved in testing the new M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2 car which was launched in Sardinia, taking it for tarmac testing at Otterburn in the UK.  

Henning Solberg has continued to open more Expert shops in Norway and had to think of horsepower of a different kind last week when he bought a new pony for his daughter.  Meanwhile Cato Menkerud has also been training hard – he’s running 15km three times a week in preparation for the Berlin marathon in September.  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It’s almost a totally new route although a couple of the stages will be familiar to some of the drivers from previous years so it’s a new challenge for everyone.   It’s going to be another hot rally after the last one in Sardinia but we’re prepared for the heat here so it shouldn’t be too bad.  I think that tyre wear is going to be a big issue.  The roads that we know in Greece are very abrasive and we don’t know how tough the new sections will be so that adds another challenge to the mix.  Acropolis has been quite a good rally for me in the past.  I finished sixth last year so I hope that we can build on that this year.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
“Generally I like rough rallies and the Acropolis is no exception.  It is always a big challenge and one of the toughest rallies of the year, but this time I’m really looking forward to it.  We made some very positive changes in Sardinia and now I have a really great car; the feeling is better and I’m confident now that we can be on a good pace.  We set fast times on the last day in Sardinia even when Seb and Petter were battling.  I’m focused now on this rally and I really want to put in a strong performance for the second half of the year.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Both Matthew and Henning have produced consistently strong results for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team in the first half of the season and will be looking to continue that good form in Greece.  Conditions will be very tough on the cars and the drivers, but this is where Matthew’s fitness will come to the fore as he will be well equipped to deal with the high temperatures thanks to the training that he has put in prior to the event.   Henning has had some excellent results in Greece in the past and hopefully he can produce another good finish this year to help maintain the team’s momentum in the manufacturer championship.”

Pirelli Star Driver Acropolis

Posted: June 7, 2009 7:12 PM

The Pirelli Star Drivers will reach the halfway point of their 2009 programme on the forthcoming Acropolis Rally. Greece’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship is one of the oldest and toughest on the calendar. And this year, with the route moving away from its Athens base, the drivers will meet some of the classic Acropolis stages such as Bauxites and Drossohori – names which send shivers down the spines of those brought up on smooth gravel roads.

This year, the event is based in Loutraki, 85 kilometres west of Athens. Instead of starting the rally outside the Acropolis itself, the organisers have gone for a more modern (in terms of ancient Greece) – but none less astonishing – feat of engineering: the Corinth Canal. Proceedings begin with the ceremonial start on Thursday (11 June) evening.

The rally ahead - Acropolis Rally of Greece
The opening day of this year’s Acropolis Rally has the look of being the toughest. Only one of the stages will be repeated (the 24-kilometre Thiva test), but when the crews leave the sanctuary of the service park in Loutraki, they will not return until the end of the day. Instead, they will head north and take on the rigours of some of the roughest roads in the world with only the spares they’re carrying in the car and a fresh set of Pirelli Scorpion tyres to keep them going. This longest day of the event is centred around the remote service zone in Itea.

The second day is a slightly more familiar routine with two loops of three stages with service in Loutraki at lunchtime. And for those still in one piece after what will be an exceptionally tough test, there’s the ultimate sting in the tail with two passes of the 33-kilometre Aghii Theodori stage on Sunday. The event finishes back in Loutraki at 14:36 hrs on Sunday (14 June).

As well as focusing on the event, the Pirelli Star Drivers will also undergo the second stage of their training programme in Greece. Members of the ESP training team, including 2001 World Champion Robert Reid, will be on hand to work with the five drivers and co-drivers. Training in Greece will be focussed on performance for two days – the first day is prior to the start. The second day’s training is run in real-time during the opening day of the event. The coaching will be looking at attention control and all issues from previous elements of the programme being put into practice. In particular, the crews will be looking at the effect on performance of specific nutrition and hydration elements and micro planning and preparation routines. In addition a pace note workshop will analyse how they perform during recce and on-rally based on review of in-car footage.

Last time out – Rally d’Italia Sardegna (21-24 May)
Finland’s Jarkko Nikara stole the Pirelli Star Driver show on the Rally d’Italia Sardegna. Despite suffering from a misfire for much of the rally, Nikara still managed to collect his first ever Group N podium position on a round of the World Rally Championship. Not only did he set fastest times in his category during the Olbia-based event, but he also recorded the ninth quickest time overall on Friday’s penultimate test. Jon Williams (South Africa) was the only other registered finisher last time out. Williams demonstrated not only improved pace along the Italian island roads, but also an exceptional level of stamina to cope with power steering failure in the 35-degree heat of Saturday afternoon. The training he and the rest of the drivers completed prior to the start of the programme clearly worked well. Nicos Thomas, Mark Tapper and Martin Semerád all failed to finish the event. Thomas’s car was withdrawn on safety grounds, due to a fuel-related problem; Tapper went off the road while suffering from a lack of power – also related to a fuel issue, while Semerád suffered an engine problem late on Saturday.

The drivers
Car 61: Nicos Thomas/Stéphane Prévot
Nicos Thomas said: “Coming from Cyprus, I have an idea of what rallying will be like in Greece, even though I have never been to the Acropolis Rally. Almost every rally I have done in the past has been in really hot conditions – that’s what you get when you drive in the Middle East! I’m lucky that I don’t really have to do special training, just more of what I’m already doing – work in the gym and cycling in the sunshine around my country. One thing I will be doing on the rally is drinking much more water. When you get to the end of the stage, it’s incredible how wet your overalls can become with sweat and you have to make sure you replace that liquid.

“One of the areas where the Acropolis is different to the Cyprus Rally is with the average speed on stages – they tend to be higher in Greece. This means when you hit a stone or a ditch in the Mitsubishi, you are going to be travelling faster and probably going to be doing more damage to the car. I think it’s easy to damage the suspension or lose a wheel on this event. The Group N cars are not as strong as the World Rally Cars, which means we will have to raise the ride height on the car to make sure we get over all of the ruts and stones pulled out by the drivers ahead of us. With that in mind, I don’t think the speed is the most important thing for this rally, it’s about getting to the finish – and if you do that, you will have made a great success of your rally. And what a country to do that in! Greece is beautiful. I feel at home there, it’s close to my way of living and it’s a country where they speak my language.

“Twisty and slow rallies are, like I said, what I’m used to – and so they’re also what I prefer. They suit me as a driver as well. Fast rallies like Finland are more interesting for the spectators and drivers, but to be fast there, you need experience of such events. I prefer rallies like the Acropolis and I’m trying to get out and do more local events here in Cyprus between the Pirelli Star Driver programme. Cyprus Tourism Organisation, my sponsor, has been a big help for me. Two events I will be doing later in the season are the Troodos Rally and Jordan Rally, both rounds of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship in October.”

“Greece is undoubtedly going to be hard work. It’s probably the toughest rally in the Championship and it’s going to be tough to get to the end without any problems. But that’s what we’re aiming for. I’m going to shut the heat out of my mind and cope with the conditions as well as I can. My co-driver and I will be aiming to make perfect pace notes and then formulating a plan for the entire rally regarding our pace. I realise we’re going to have to look after the car – particularly on the second pass of stages – and carry some spares to fix things if we’re unfortunate enough to break anything. The main thing for me on this rally is to take more points in the PWRC and try to show the pace to be in the top three PWRC times.”

Q&A with Phil Short, Pirelli Star Driver Supervisor

Q: What's your experience of the Acropolis Rally, and what advice will you be offering the Pirelli Star Drivers?
A: I never did the event as a co-driver, but it was my very first rally in team management, looking after Ari Vatanen's Rothmans Escort with David Sutton's team in 1981. The result wasn’t bad – it was the first of my 77 WRC wins in management. Since then, I've overseen another five Acropolis victories, so you could say I have fond memories of the event. The Acropolis will be rough and tough – everybody knows that. It will be especially tough in a Production Car. My advice to the Pirelli Star Drivers will definitely be to pace themselves. I'm guessing that the remote service at Itea on the opening day could be quite busy and possibly crucial to the event.

Q: We're running some new (or returning to) stages north of Athens this season. What are they like?
A: Some of these are classic Acropolis stages of years gone by, so more mountainous in nature, but still very tough. The new stages in the Peloponnese look intriguing – we were there in 1981.

Q: The Acropolis has a reputation for being a car-breaker. Is that still the case?
A: The retirement rates in recent years have looked lower, but this is mainly due to the SupeRally rules. The actual number of cars getting through without substantial time-loss is still quite small, so yes it can, and almost certainly will be quite a car-breaker.

Q: How much will the heat make a difference on this rally?
A: It makes a difference to the cars and affects the performance, while also stressing tyres and components much more. It also affects the drivers; our training session in the heat chamber at Edinburgh University showed the Pirelli Star Drivers how much fluid they lose in a short time and how their mental capability drops in the stress of the heat situation. So the heat makes errors more likely and the crews have to prepare for that.

Q: The drivers will be using the hard-compound Pirelli Scorpion tyre. Do you expect any tyre wear or puncture problems?
A: The high ambient temperatures and abrasive stages will put the Pirelli tyres under a lot of stress too, but the tyre has proved very strong and durable. So strong in fact that you are more likely to break the rim or the suspension before you break the tyre! So the crews will need to keep that in mind as they drive the stages, but will also need to manage their tyres well between stages to keep the wear situation under control.

Q: Does it ever rain in Greece in June? And if it does, what does that do to the road surface?
A: Yes, it can rain in Greece in June! When it does it tends to be in the form of short, sharp localised showers, which can turn the roads muddy in places, and quite quickly. This is more likely up in the mountains and especially during the afternoons, after the temperature reaches its peak. Because of the sunshine, out in the open the roads dry up quickly, but in the shade under the trees the softer damp surfaces can remain to catch the unwary.

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Posted: May 19, 2009 7:48 PM

Event Website / Details

Posted: January 1, 2009 12:01 AM






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