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Acropolis (Greece) (P A) - 25-27 May 12

Posted: August 2, 2012 9:19 PM - 3894 Hits

Round 6 - 2012 World Rally Championship
P - Production World Rally Championship
A - WRC Academy

DUPLESSIS TAKES SPIRIT OF THE FIA WRC ACADEMY IN GREECE

Posted: August 2, 2012 9:19 PM

As the FIA WRC Academy crews completed a pre-event test for the Acropolis Rally in Arthikia, Greece last month, Chris Duplessis’ winning personality saw him awarded the event’s Spirit of the FIA WRC Academy award.

With the test stage running alongside the Elementary School of Athikia, the school children had spent the morning drawing the colourful cars – with Duplessis’ bright orange DirtFish Ford Fiesta R2 proving a popular choice.

Driving alongside the school on his final run, the American slowed down to give the youngsters a ‘drive-by high-five’ – much to the delight of the excited school children.

Working at a rally school in his native America, Duplessis is well known for his charisma and compassion which makes him one of the most popular personalities in the feeder series; and his thoughtful actions on the Acropolis Rally only reinforce his status as a true ambassador for the sport.

Supported by Ford Racing in Europe and with control tyres from Pirelli, the WRC Academy crews will next tackle the challenging tracks of Neste Oil Rally Finland in August where Duplessis will be keen to build on his sixth place finish at the Acropolis Rally.

Having set the third fastest time over the penultimate stage in Greece, Duplessis – who is supported by Ford Racing US – is growing in confidence and will be keen to impress as he embarks on the event he has been looking forward to all year.

Chris Duplessis said:
“I love kids and to see them so excited to have the rally car driving by their school was awesome – they where yelling "rally, rally rally!’ One little girl had even drawn a picture of my DirtFish orange Fiesta. I really loved Greece – the food was great, the landscape was beautiful and the people were the nicest I have ever met.
“I am so excited for Finland now – it is the rally I loved watching growing up. The fans are crazy and there are loads of big jumps and flat-out roads – that is rallying at its best! We had a top three stage time in Greece and I would love to have more of that in Finland. I am still getting used to the car and finding my speed, but hopefully Finland will be my coming out party!”

Fisher conquers tough Acropolis Rally to maintain FIA WRC Academy advantage

Posted: July 19, 2012 12:40 PM

Alastair Fisher has completed arguably the toughest event in the World Rally Championship with his lead of the FIA WRC Academy firmly intact by eight points following a mature drive to a second-place finish on the Acropolis Rally in Greece.

Fisher, from Trillick in County Tyrone, began the event, which is famous for its high ambient temperatures and punishing rock-strewn gravel roads, on a high following his victory on the opening round of the season in Portugal in late March. Anxious to maintain his title advantage, Fisher decided before the start that he would not to take any unnecessary risks in the Ford Fiesta R2 he shares with co-driver Daniel Barritt from Burnley, Lancashire, in order to secure a strong finish.

“It was a difficult rally because the pace was very fast on very rough stages and we really had to push to stay in the lead battle,” said the 23-year-old Fisher. “Elfyn Evans took his chances on the opening day, pushed on and it really paid off for him when he won. I wasn’t prepared to risk trying to catch him either with my second podium in an as many rallies all but secure. It was a hugely challenging rally and a massive test of man and machine. I’m very pleased to get a solid result here.”

Fisher’s only moment of concern occurred on Saturday’s second stage when his car suffered a light roll, as he explained:
“It was at a hairpin left when we were climbing in first gear. On turning into the corner the car caught a rut with the front-right wheel and tipped over onto its roof really slowly. Thankfully there were spectators there to get it pushed onto its wheels. The only real damage was to the windscreen, which made the view quite distorted. But we got to the finish and now we’re going to keep our focus for the next round in Finland in August.”

DOMINANT PERFORMANCE SEES EVANS CLAIM MAIDEN FIA WRC ACADEMY VICTORY

Posted: July 19, 2012 12:38 PM

As the FIA WRC Academy crews tackled the most challenging event of their careers at the 58th Acropolis Rally this weekend, it was Elfyn Evans (23) who came out on top to claim his maiden WRC Academy victory with a dominating seven out of a possible ten stage wins. The Welshman is known for his speed and mechanical sympathy ' a mix which proved advantageous on the abrasive Greek stages. Alastair Fisher (23) claimed second place to maintain his lead at the head of the standings with Brendan Reeves (23) securing his second podium of the year finishing the event in third.

Supported by Ford Racing in Europe and with control tyres from Pirelli, the WRC Academy got underway with a 25km stage on Thursday evening with rookie Pontus Tidemand (21) setting the pace to take an early lead ' 3.9 seconds up on Evans with Fisher a further 4.1 adrift in third.

Elsewhere however, the opening test spelled disaster for Sweden's Fredrik Åhlin (21). Keen to translate his speed into a strong result on the Acropolis Rally, the youngster slid off the road after being distracted by an engine light following a heavy landing which damaged the sump on his Ford Fiesta R2. Åhlin's mature approach saw him take advantage of the Rally 2 regulation rather than continuing and risking any further damage to his Fiesta.

The competition restarted on Friday morning with the WRC Academy crews contesting six stages including Greek classics, 'Bauxites' and 'Drossohori'. The remote service in Itea posed a new challenge for the competitors ' having to complete all six stages with only the spares in the rally car available for repairs. Thanks to his speed and mechanical sympathy, Evans dominated the day with a clean-sweep of stage victories that saw the Welshman assume control at the head of the standings.

With a good run over Elikonas 1 (SS4), Fisher got the better of Tidemand in their battle for second, leading the Swede by five seconds going into service. Unfortunately, having been going strongly in seventh, Dutch Federation (KNAF) supported driver Timo Van Der Marel (22) clipped a rock on SS4 which damaged the front wishbone on his Fiesta R2 forcing him to Rally 2 the following day.

Evans' dominance continued over the afternoon to lead the series by 29.5 seconds at the end of Day 1. Getting to grips with the art of loose-surface rallying, asphalt specialist Jose Suárez (20) claimed the third fastest time over Bauxites 1 (SS5) to climb to fifth place in the overall standings ' just 27.1 seconds adrift of Reeves going strongly in fourth.

Re-starting on Saturday morning, the crews contested four stages through the beautiful Peloponnese peninsula which masked the roughest day of competition in this year's World Rally Championship (WRC). The going was tough, and the abrasive nature of the stages ' littered with rocks and exposed bedrock ' claimed a number of victims.

Amongst the unfortunate, and heart-achingly close to his second consecutive WRC Academy podium, Tidemand broke a driveshaft 5km into SS11. Also falling foul of the stages' rough characteristics, fellow Swede Åhlin rolled his Fiesta on SS12 ' forcing an untimely retirement after demonstrating some impressive speed over the morning's opening stages.

The same stage saw heartache for Ashley Haigh-Smith (19) with a broken driveshaft on his debut as an official WRC Academy driver and there was further disappointment for João Silva. Having shown clear progression by setting the fourth fastest time over SS11, an impact to the exhaust saw the Portuguese driver damage the fuel tank of his Fiesta R2.

Elsewhere however, Evans claimed a further two stage victories to secure his maiden WRC Academy victory. Despite rolling his Fiesta R2 and losing over a minute on SS12, Fisher recovered well ' with a broken windscreen ' to secure second place and maintain his lead at the head of the series while a mature drive from Reeves saw the Australian stay clear of trouble to secure his second WRC Academy podium of the year in third.

Battling throughout the weekend, John MacCrone (23) pipped Suárez in a nail-biting battle for fourth place. The closing stages saw both drivers snatch a stage win - which marked the first WRC Academy stage victory for the Scotsman and Suárez's first on gravel - but it was MacCrone who came out on top by a margin of just 6.8 seconds. Claiming his first WRC Academy points, American Chris Duplessis (24) brought his Fiesta R2 safely home in sixth, with Van Der Marel recovering from yesterday's issues to claim the final points in seventh.

With seven out of eleven Fiesta R2s making it to the end of the roughest event on the WRC calendar, the WRC Academy crews, and Ford Fiesta R2, impressed once again ' raising to the challenges posed by the demanding terrain.

With four events remaining, the WRC Academy championship standings are closer than ever. Fisher's second place saw him maintain his series lead with just an eight point advantage to Evans in second. Reeves lays a further three points adrift in third with Suárez fourth and Van Der Marel and Tidemand rounding off the top six.

Elfyn Evans (1st) said:
'I am very happy and this event is definitely up there as one of my best results. It has been a difficult event and SS11 was probably the toughest stage I have ever driven but the Fiesta [R2] and Pirelli tyres have done fantastically well. It was very rough in places and we didn't have a single puncture. If you saw the conditions I don't think you would believe that they would be able to cope, so it is a real credit to Pirelli.

'We had a really tough rally in Portugal so put a lot of work into preparing for Greece and everything has gone really well. Phil [Pugh] has been world class and I am very lucky to have him in the car.'

Alastair Fisher (2nd) said:
'We are very happy to finish second having been upside down! It was an enjoyable rally. The plan from the start was to get a podium so we achieved that and have scored some good points for the Championship. We rolled on SS11 on a very slow corner when the wheel got caught in a rut, so we were very lucky that we were able to maintain our position ' it was tricky having to drive the last stages with a broken windscreen!'

Brendan Reeves (3rd) said:
'We are happy to have finished with our second podium of the season. Last year we didn't get a podium at all and this year we have two after two events and we have collected some important points for the Championship.

'Overall the rally has been enjoyable but challenging. We have had some highs and lows, yesterday had some great stages and today it was just about getting through. Rhianon [Smyth] did a great job for our 50th event together and a podium finish was a nice way to celebrate that.'

John MacCrone (4th) said:
'It feels good to have taken a stage win today. Jose [Suárez] was putting some pressure on us so we had to push for fourth position. It was really fun to push a bit more, especially on the fast stages this afternoon. I am committing to my notes and they were working well. If someone had told me we would finish fourth in the toughest event on the [WRC] Academy calendar I would happily have taken it and here we are!'

Jose Suárez (5th) said:
'We are very very happy. Of course I would have preferred to finish fourth, but we are pleased with our times and we had no problems with the car. I am not sure what has changed since the last event, but everything seems to be working well for us.'

Chris Duplessis (6th) said:
'Today was awesome and the Dirt Fish Fiesta [R2] was amazing. The M-Sport [WRC] Academy guys and Pirelli have put a great package together and we have done some of the roughest stages I have seen with no issues.

'We opened it up a bit this afternoon and will hopefully get more consistent, fast times in the future. It felt easy to go at that pace and also good to set some quick times. We had a blast!'

Timo Van Der Marel (7th) said:
'It has been a very difficult rally for us. Luck has been a real factor in this rally and not so much on our side. We had some problems yesterday and had to Rally 2, but we made it through safely today and got some important points for the Championship.'

Pontus Tidemand (DNF) said:
'We started really well. We had a really good pace and made no mistakes. We should have got some really good points here, but the broken driveshaft means that we leave with only the one stage point from Thursday.

'Of course I am very disappointed, but we will concentrate on Finland now where we should be strong and have a good chance of victory.'

Ashley Haigh-Smith (DNF) said:
'The event was brilliant. Ok the no score is not what we wanted, but considering how difficult this rally is we can't be too disappointed with our performance. I was gaining confidence with every stage and the notes were working really well. Our M-Sport mechanics were fantastic and now I am really looking forward to Finland.'

Fredrik Åhlin (DNF) said:
'This has not been our weekend for sure. We had a mechanical problem on the first stage, and then today I made a mistake on the road. We have had so much bad luck this year and it almost feels as though it is just not meant to be.

'But we have Finland next which will hopefully be my event. The stages should really suit me and we will be out for the win.'

João Silva (DNF) said:
'I enjoyed the rally and you can see that our pace has improved since Portugal. We said that we wanted to be in the mid-field for this event and we have achieved that which is a positive. It was unfortunate that we had to retire, but this was a rough event and I was pleased with the car and our pace.'

STRONG RECOVERY SEES TÄNAK TAKE POINTS IN GREECE

Posted: July 19, 2012 12:36 PM

Embarking on the 58th Acropolis Rally's shortest day of competition, Ott Tänak recovered well to secure ninth place and vital points for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team to retain their third place as the leading privateers in the World Rally Championship Manufacturers' standings.

Contesting 65.55 km close to the rally base in Loutraki, Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk embraced the rough terrain behind the wheel of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC to make it into the top-ten. Following the retirement of Daniel Oliveira and team-mate Evgeny Novikov, the Estonian found himself having to contend with the loose surface once again as he sought out a clean line with his early road position. Yet despite being disadvantaged running as the third car on the road, Tänak excelled to secure his position with a fifth and sixth fastest time respectively.

Returning for the final tests, Tänak impressed once more with a third fastest time over Aghii Theodori 2 (SS20) and a fifth fastest time through the 11.37 km of New Pissia 2 (SS20) ' just 3.3 seconds adrift of pacesetter Jari-Matti Latvala and 1.1 seconds up on eight-time world champion Sébastien Loeb.

Elsewhere however, there was disappointment for Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet. Despite setting some impressive stage times over the first two days of competition, the duo were unable to translate their speed into points as the initial damage to their radiator on Day 2 resulted in engine damage on SS18. Regrettably, with raising engine temperatures, the pairing were forced to retire their Ford Fiesta RS WRC from the event.

Nevertheless, thanks to the Russian's strong performance over the opening rounds of the season, Novikov holds sixth place in the WRC driver's standings.

Ott Tänak (9th) said:
'This afternoon's stages were ok with no dramas. It was still quite loose at the front but we did our best. On Saturday and Sunday we had quite a good run and were building our confidence with quite a good feeling in the car. It was more than a shame about Friday because we have been feeling really good over the last few days.'

Latvala takes podium in Greece as Solberg misses out on win

Posted: July 19, 2012 12:35 PM

Ford World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished third in the Acropolis Rally of Greece today on their comeback from injury. Latvala climbed onto the podium in a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car after team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson crashed out of this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship this morning while chasing victory.

Latvala returned to action after missing the previous round with a broken collarbone sustained in a training accident. Both the 27-year-old Finn and Solberg challenged for a win over boulder-strewn mountain roads, but a puncture for Latvala after he hit a bank in the penultimate leg and Solberg's accident ended their hopes.

The rally lived up to its reputation as the toughest event in the calendar. Many drivers encountered mechanical problems on the rocky roads around the Gulf of Corinth, west of Athens. And, unexpectedly for a summer rally in Greece, heavy rain transformed the gravel tracks into a mudbath yesterday, generating treacherous conditions that drivers likened to driving on ice.

After the Ford duo finished first and second in qualifying, Latvala initially led the rally, which covered 22 speed tests and 409.47km of competition over four days. He fought tooth and nail with Sébastien Loeb, and Latvala was just 2.2sec behind his rival when he hit a bank and punctured a tyre yesterday afternoon. He had to stop to fit a spare wheel and fell to fourth.

With no pressure from behind and no opportunity to close on those ahead, Latvala took no risks over today's final leg, comprising five special stages and 65.55km. He climbed to third when Solberg retired and claimed two bonus points after finishing second in the final Power Stage. He won 10 stages during the weekend.
'I need to be satisfied in one sense because I said before the rally that I wanted to finish on the podium and I did that,' said Latvala. 'Of course, at the same time I'm disappointed because I could have won. It's good to be back on the podium after a long time away but I need to push for wins now. That's the only thing I can do.

'It's quite incredible that once again I was leading the rally and looking good, but couldn't convert it into victory. I've had too many setbacks like that this year and it's hugely frustrating for the team. I need to iron out the little mistakes and I hope I can turn things round at the next event in New Zealand,' added Latvala, who lies fifth in the championship standings.

Solberg settled into third and when Latvala punctured, the 37-year-old Norwegian stepped up his pace. He won three consecutive stages yesterday afternoon to restart today just 10.2sec from the lead. However, his victory hopes ended in the opening test when he hit a bank.
'I approached a long left bend in a narrow downhill section,' said Solberg. 'I hit the bank on the right of the road and then the car bounced into the bank on the opposite side. The impact knocked the left rear wheel off and that was it. I feel so sorry for the team because I wanted to win but unfortunately it wasn't to be.

'The plan was to push and try to take two or three seconds back on the first stage. I wanted to put pressure on Loeb, I had to try. After the opening 10km we were equal on time so I decided to push a bit harder. Until the accident my driving was perfect with no mistakes. It's disappointing but I must look ahead to the next rally and stay positive,' added Solberg, who is fourth in the drivers' points.

Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson admitted the outcome was a 'disappointment'.
'It was one of the most closely-fought rallies I can recall. We lost Jari-Matti from the battle for the lead but we had a second chance with Petter. To lose him was doubly disappointing. I'm pleased to see Jari-Matti on the podium on his return from injury and that he had no ill effects,' he said.

Ford Racing motorsport manager Gerard Quinn said:
'Jari-Matti made a strong return after injury and a podium was the least he deserved given the pace he showed. The battle for the lead yesterday was thrilling. Petter, too, challenged for victory and on another day perhaps he would have taken the win. Rallies are won and lost in split second incidents and that's something we saw today.'

News from other Ford teams
Adapta World Rally Team's Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson were fourth in a Fiesta RS WRC and lie third in the drivers' championship. They were one place ahead of the similar Czech Ford National Team car of Martin Prokop and Zdenek Hr'za. Yazeed Al Rahji and Michael Orr took eighth in a Fiesta RRC, while M-Sport Ford World Rally Team's Ott Tänak and Kuldar Sikk recovered to ninth after opening leg problems. Team-mates Evgeny Novikov and Denis Giraudet restarted today after retiring yesterday when a damaged radiator caused their car's engine to overheat. However, the problem returned after a few kilometres and they stopped. Brazil World Rally Team's Daniel Oliveira and Carlos Magalhaes retired in the opening stage of the morning.

Next round
The final round of the first half of the year takes the team outside Europe for the last time this season. Auckland hosts Rally New Zealand on 21 - 24 June, a gravel event on the country's North Island.

WRC ACADEMY WINNER PRAISES PIRELLI AFTER TOUGHEST RALLY

Posted: July 19, 2012 12:34 PM

British driver Elfyn Evans celebrated winning round two of the Pirelli-supported FIA WRC Academy on the Acropolis Rally in Greece (24-26 May) by praising the outstanding performance and durability of his Pirelli tyres.

One of 11 future champion rally drivers competing in the young-driver training category on the event based near Athens, Evans successfully negotiated punishing rock-strewn stages, muddy patches and ground temperatures exceeding 40 degrees centigrade to win ahead of fellow British driver Alastair Fisher and Brendan Reeves from Australia.

Pirelli equipped the identical fleet of Ford Fiesta R2s, which are prepared by the M-Sport organisation in the United Kingdom and used as standard in the WRC Academy, with a version of the K4 tyre in 175/70-15 developed specifically for the Fiesta. The tyre is based on the vastly successful Scorpion cover that was used in the World Rally Championship from 2008-2010. It is lighter than the Scorpion with a focus on performance as well as outright durability.

Following his victory, the first of his WRC Academy career, 23-year-old Evans said:
“I’m very pleased with this result after what was the toughest rally I have done. It’s been far from easy because the stages are very rough. But my Pirelli tyres have been absolutely fantastic in how they’ve performed. Even though the stages were very, very rough in places, we’ve not had one puncture. Looking at the state of roads it’s difficult to believe that the tyres could last at rally pace for so long so it’s a big credit to Pirelli that they did. The engineers and technicians have done a fantastic job.”

Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s Motorsport Director, said:
“We’ve competed in the past with his father, Gwyndaf, so it’s great to see Elfyn Evans take his first win in the WRC Academy, especially on such a demanding event like the Acropolis Rally. Elfyn is a former Pirelli Star Driver in the British Rally Championship, so he has plenty of knowledge of our tyre range and its capabilities, which he was able to use to good effect. The very rough and abrasive Greek stages are some of the biggest tests that our rally tyres face all year, yet none of the top drivers reported any problems. It’s once again a testament to not just the strength and durability but also the performance of our products, which do their job perfectly to allow the champions of the future to really show their talents.”

Drivers from four different continents were in action in the WRC Academy section of the Acropolis Rally, including Ashley Haigh-Smith from South Africa, Chris Duplessis from the United States of America, Jose Suarez from Spain and Australia’s Brendan Reeves.

The WRC Academy resumes on the high-speed Rally Finland in early August.

THE RALLY OF GODS REWARDS CITROËN

Posted: July 19, 2012 12:32 PM

Dubbed the ‘Rally of Gods’ by the organisers, the Greek round of the WRC saw Citroën Total World Rally Team reach Elysium with a superb overall result. The Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen crews recorded their third one-two finish of the season to go with those obtained in Mexico and Argentina.

Sébastien Loeb and Citroën therefore extend their lead at the top of the World Championships, while Mikko Hirvonen moves into second place in the Drivers’ standings.

After two long days of racing, the final leg of the Acropolis Rally seemed somewhat easier. The 65km of timed stages were split into two loops, interspersed with a thirty-minute stop at the service park. With a mere 10-second advantage over Petter Solberg, Sébastien Loeb flew off on the Aghii Theodori stage, pushing to the max. After a few kilometres, a message appeared on the DS3 WRC’s dashboard informing him that he could ease off a little:
“Petter was reported to have come to a halt on the stage, so I stopped pushing so hard. After I passed him, I thought to myself that it would have been difficult to maintain the same pace right to the end, given how many potholes and rocks there were on the road!”

Solberg’s retirement enabled Mikko Hirvonen to move into second position. When he returned to Loutraki, the Finn looked somewhat incredulous at events:
“I can hardly believe that I've moved up to second position. I haven't been pushing since midway through yesterday to try and hold onto my position and secure a good overall result for the team. And now it looks like we might finish with a one-two!”

As it had been predicted that this Acropolis Rally would see plenty of unlikely twists and turns, SS20 left the team in a cold sweat. At the second split, Sébastien Loeb was one and a half minutes behind the pace-setter. The no.1 DS3 WRC lost no further time to the end of the stage, at which point Seb confirmed that he had been hit by a puncture:
“I don’t know what happened, but I felt that we had a flat tyre after three kilometres. It would have been impossible to make it to the end like that, so we stopped to change the wheel. Everything went well and, in the end, our lead didn’t come under threat.”

The rally concluded with the Power Stage, which was run on the first few kilometres of the Aghii Theodori stage. With the pressure finally off, Sébastien Loeb completed a masterful weekend’s performance on this relatively smooth stage by taking the fastest time and with it, the three bonus points. Third fastest on the Power Stage, Mikko Hirvonen also grabbed an extra point.
“We managed this race well, despite the constant pressure we were put under by our rivals,” said Loeb, who now boasts 71 career world championship wins.
“I never lost my cool at any point, even when we got a puncture, because I knew we would still have enough of a lead. It is worth highlighting that we were able to count upon the unwavering reliability of the DS3 WRC.”

“Yes, my thoughts are with the technical team when we talk about this one-two finish,” added Mikko Hirvonen. “We had no mechanical problems on either car; that is a truly exceptional achievement on a rally like this one. As far as I’m concerned, I am still surprised to have finished second, but I had to be consistent and not make any mistakes. I am really looking forward to the next two rallies in New Zealand and Finland!”

“When you look at the road surface conditions faced by the cars and the teams on this rally, you can but admire the overall performance of the team,” emphasized Frédéric Banzet, Citroën General Manager. “The DS3 WRCs and the two crews were perfectly reliable. Citroën, Sébastien and Daniel extended their lead in the World Championship, so as we approach the halfway stage of the season, our assessment of the results achieved is very positive. As has been the case in recent rallies, Mikko and Jarmo produced a solid performance, enabling them to move up into second place in the Drivers’ standings. Once again, I’m very proud of the best rallying team in the world.”

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED FOR THIERRY NEUVILLE

Posted: July 19, 2012 12:28 PM

After starting with the goal of reaching the end of the Acropolis Rally without needing to use the Rally2 rules, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul (Citroën Junior World Rally Team) produced an error-free performance to take sixth place on one of the season’s most difficult events. Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini (Qatar World Rally Team) were less fortunate, as they had to retire from the rally. Contested on what are reputed to be the roughest gravel roads in the World Championship, the 2012 Acropolis Rally more than lived up to expectations, perhaps except as regards the weather. Throughout the four days of racing, heavy showers made life complicated for crews and engineers alike, forced to keep switching between hard and soft Michelin Latitude Cross tyres to adapt to the road conditions, which varied between wet and muddy to dry.

After a single timed stage on Thursday evening, day two served up a first test of the drivers’ valour. Featuring 169km of stages without any stops at the main service park, the drivers had to look after their machines. Despite producing an error-free performance, Thierry Neuville suffered a broken transmission on Friday's penultimate test. After finishing the stage in his DS3 WRC with rear-wheel drive only, the Belgian made it back to Loutraki over seven minutes adrift of the leader. “It’s a shame because I could have made it into the top five, but I’m glad to still be in the race. I’m pleased with my times, especially going second fastest on SS6.”

Run on even rougher gravel and rock-strewn roads, Saturday provided Thierry with the opportunity to shine. Improving as the rally wore on, he showed particularly good form in the second loop, despite being contested in near-apocalyptic conditions. Fourth fastest on SS14 and third fastest on SS16, the Citroën Junior WRT driver moved up into seventh position:
“I’m pleased to have completed another day without making any mistakes. I felt good in the car; I had good pace notes and I was able to push in the less tricky sections.”

Petter Solberg’s retirement on the final day meant Thierry ended the rally in sixth position:
“I'm really pleased with the result; first of all, I would like to thank Citroën Racing for their support. The team really helped me to make the breakthrough and I have progressed again this weekend. This rally was the most difficult I have ever experienced, so I am all the more proud to have made it to the end.”

In the points in the last three rallies – Mexico, Portugal and Argentina – Nasser Al-Attiyah had a more testing time this weekend in Greece. And yet, the rally had started well for Nasser, who held seventh place on Friday evening.
“I tried to adapt my pace to the conditions and the team have always advised me well as far as tyre choice is concerned. That meant I wasn’t too affected by my starting position, which wasn't great.” On Saturday, the Qatari’s race came to a halt on SS14: “The driveshaft broke. These things happen, especially on rough surfaces like the one here. We still had three stages to complete and it wouldn’t have been possible to do them with rear-wheel drive only; it was better to call it a day and look to rejoin the next day under Rally2 rules.”

Sunday’s leg proved to be a short-lived experience for the no.7 DS3 WRC, after the car went off in the first few kilometres of SS18.
“We went through a dried out watersplash which sent the car into the air. It landed on the nose and we ended up half rolling the car,” recounted Nasser. “As the radiator was damaged, we couldn’t continue without running the risk of engine failure. So we decided to retire.”

At the next rally, the Brother Rally New Zealand (21-24 June), Thierry Neuville will drive the DS3 WRC of the Qatar World Rally Team. Nasser Al-Attiyah has to concentrate on preparations for the London Olympic Games, where he is due to represent his country in Skeet shooting.

New DMACK Tyre Takes Class Win On Acropolis

Posted: July 19, 2012 12:27 PM

DMACK's brand-new gravel rally tyre scored a production class win on the ultra-tough Acropolis Rally of Greece today when Yuriy Protasov took victory by over one minute from eventual Production WRC category winner Valeriy Gorban.

Ukrainian Protasov won the newly introduced Rally Class series as DMACK driver Nicolas Fuchs also dominated the Production WRC battle on this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

The new DMG+2 gravel tyre was introduced just one week before the event as DMACK updated the specification of its nominated gravel tyre in accordance with the FIA's joker system. The new closed tread pattern offered drivers enhanced levels of high speed stability while the brand-new H1 compound ensured the tyre could cope with the extreme levels of durability demanded by the renowned Greek rally stages.

The tyre demonstrated the ideal blend of performance and puncture resistance with only one puncture experienced across all DMACK competitors on the 409km of gruelling competitive action. With high ambient temperatures, rocky roads and underlying bedrock, the Acropolis roads are famed for their tough challenge to drivers, cars and tyres.

As in Rally Argentina, Peruvian Fuchs dominated the PWRC category, leading for most of the event until final day mechanical problems forced him down the order. Fuchs led from stage eight and avoided punctures to build up a commanding three minute lead at the end of the first day.

He maintained that through Saturday's tough driving in the Itea region but succumbed to mechanical problems when broken suspension ended his challenge on the final day. However, the performance of both Fuchs and Protasov highlighted DMACK's ongoing positive technical development.

DMACK also equipped the Citroen DS3's of Jerome Rebilly snd Sebastien Chardonnet who finished first and second in their class.

DMACK's technical development continues with a rough gravel test in Greece tomorrow which will be undertaken by Finn Jari Ketomaa in a Ford fiesta RS WRC car.

Dick Cormack, DMACK Tyres motorsport director, said:
'The rally has definitely been a success for us. We introduced a new joker tyre on what's probably the toughest event of the championship and it delivered performance, strength and durability. That's extremely encouraging and proves we are on the right track with our technical evaluation and development - of the 250 tyres fitted this weekend, DMACK has had only one puncture. We've always said we are in the WRC to learn, and our strategy and development programme has strengthened after this weekends performance.'

Results

Posted: July 19, 2012 12:22 PM

1. S Loeb/D Elena (Citroen DS3 WRC) 4hr 42min 03.3sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen (Citroen DS3 WRC) 4hr 42min 43.3sec
3. J-M Latvala/M Anttila (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 4hr 45min 08.1sec
4. M Østberg/J Andersson (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 4hr 48min 19.7sec
5. M Prokop/Z Hr?za (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 4hr 49min 49.8sec
6. T Neuville/N Gilsoul (Citroen DS3 WRC) 4hr 51min 44.7sec
7. S Ogier/J Ingrassia (Skoda Fabia S2000) 4hr 55min 03.2sec
8. Y Al Rajhi/M Orr (Ford Fiesta RRC) 5hr 02min 15.5sec
9. O Tänak/K Sikk (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 5hr 05min 22.2sec
10 A Alkuwari/N Arena (Mini John Cooper Works WRC) 5hr 10min 43.8sec

TRAINING SEES FIA WRC ACADEMY CREWS WELL PREPARED FOR THE CHALLENGES AHEAD

Posted: May 24, 2012 2:45 PM

The FIA WRC Academy crews will be well prepared for the challenges that lay in wait on the 58th Acropolis Rally this week as they complete a comprehensive training programme incorporating a mix of practical, theoretical, social and cultural activities.

Famed as the roughest event on the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar, the crews had the opportunity to relax at the Loutraki Thermal Spa before the recce started followed by a lesson in 'bush mechanics' from one of Ford World Rally Team's most experienced technicians.

Formerly known as the legendary city of Thermae, the rally base in Loutraki is home to the healing waters which, according to Greek mythology, were bathed in by Artemis and Apollo. Today, the thermal springs have been transformed into a modern spa resort in which the ancient approach to therapy, relaxation and rejuvenation continues.

At the invitation of the Mayor of Loutraki, the WRC Academy crews were given the opportunity to experience the healing waters for themselves as they relaxed ahead of the rally. Only one competitor, Ashley Haigh-Smith, was brave enough to take a cold dip in the plunge pool after the sauna, but all where able to unwind and catch up with their colleagues. This activity provided an ideal opportunity for the young stars to focus their minds for what is set to be one of the most challenging events in their careers to date.

In a new approach from the theoretical training of the WRC Academy's inaugural season, this year's series will see the crews partake in more practical, hands-on training as M-Sport endeavours to provide the stars of tomorrow with a broad range of knowledge and techniques needed to become a future world champion. As such, this week also saw the WRC Academy crews complete a training session in 'bush mechanics' from Ford World Rally Team technician, Darren 'Daz' Mason.

Having worked with rally cars in private teams since 1989, Mason started working with the Ford World Rally Team in 1996 as part of the recce team seconded from Gordon Spooner Engineering. In 2001, he moved to work with M-Sport and has been a key part of the team, providing pre-event recce support and as a senior technician to some of the sports most iconic names. With experience of over 200 WRC events, Mason has worked with the likes of Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Marcus Grönholm, Mikko Hirvonen, Markko Märtin, Fran'ois Duval, Toni Gardemeister, Juha Kankkunen, Petter Solberg and now Jari-Matti Latvala.

'Bush mechanics' is essentially the art of fixing an ailing rally car using only the tools to hand on the stage or road section, a discipline in which the legendary Colin McRae was an expert. Whilst driving for the Subaru World Rally Team, McRae famously repaired a bent rear suspension link with the help of a locally sourced rock in Argentina ' removing the suspension arm from the car and dropping the rock from a height in an attempt to straighten the link before re-fitting it to the car. The Scot's ingenuity prevented retirement and helped him make it back to service where the technicians were able to replace the damaged part. More recently, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team's Evgeny Novikov claimed a record-breaking second place at the 2012 Vodafone Rally de Portugal having repaired a broken throttle pedal with cable-ties and tank tape from the cockpit of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC ' a feat which ultimately enabled the Russian to make it to the finish where he became the youngest ever driver to stand on a WRC podium.

The most important points covered in the session included instruction on assessing the level of damage that may have been caused, the time that may be lost, how safe the temporary repair is deemed to be and whether or not it would be realistic to continue. Considering the abrasive nature of the Acropolis Rally, the WRC Academy's practical training may prove invaluable to the crews as they look to secure a strong result this weekend.

Speaking on the importance of 'bush mechanics', Ford World Rally Team technician, Darren Mason, said:

'The aim of the 'bush mechanics' training session was to give the WRC Academy crews a general insight into some of the ways in which a rally car can be temporarily repaired ' using basic materials which can be carried in the car or found 'in the bush' out on the stages ' to a state where the car can continue to reach the end of the stage or service where it can be repaired properly.

'The Acropolis Rally will present the crews with the most difficult conditions the WRC has to offer and the combination of heat with the abrasive terrain will test them to the limit. Thinking outside the lines a little and being inventive can sometimes be all it takes to get out of trouble. Every situation will be different, but a few simple ideas can go a long way: be it securing major components in place with straps, keeping water in a cooling system by engineering temporary radiator repairs or sealing a crack in the oil sump with a bar of soap.

'All of the WRC Academy crews attended the session and showed genuine interest and enthusiasm. Hopefully, if they are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a tricky situation, some of what they have learnt could prove vital and keep them on the road.'

Following the training, WRC Academy competitor, Fredrik Åhlin said:
'The training was really good and has actually already come in useful for us as we broke a spring platform on the damper of our recce car yesterday! Thanks to the training, we were able to locate the problem and stabilise it using an exhaust clamp which lasted us the whole recce.

'For sure, the training will be a big help on the rally too. This is an event where you will be lucky to get to the finish with no problems and the skills we learnt will no doubt make it easier to make it back to service for a full repair should we encounter any problems.'

Continuing their training, the WRC Academy crews will attend a Q&A session with Citroën Total World Rally Team's Mikko Hirvonen this evening (Wednesday) where they will have an opportunity to learn from the 2011 WRC runner-up's experiences having contested the Greek stages on nine previous occasions.

Supported by Ford Racing in Europe and with control tyres from Pirelli, the WRC Academy kicks off with a 25km Super Special on Thursday evening before embarking on the opening loop of stages on Friday and Saturday.

Fisher fired up for Acropolis Rally bid

Posted: May 21, 2012 12:15 PM

Alastair Fisher is ready to build on his impressive start to the FIA WRC Academy season in Portugal in late March when he takes on the gruelling Acropolis Rally in Greece this week.

Fisher, from Trillick in County Tyrone, won the World Rally Championship support category in the Algarve following a standout showing in his Ford Fiesta R2. As a result he holds an eight-point lead after the first of six rounds.
“Building on my championship lead is the target in Greece and to do that I’ll need to be consistent and do my best to avoid any problems on what is regarded as the toughest event of the year,” said Fisher, who is co-driven by Burnley, Lancashirebased co-driver Daniel Barritt.
“If there’s a chance to push on to get the win then it’s something I’ll obviously look to do, but I know there will be a few drivers who didn’t have such a good opening round looking to make an impression in Greece, so it won’t be easy. I think everyone will have to judge their pace accordingly to the condition of the road.”

Running from May 24-26 the Acropolis Rally, which is based in Loutraki, approximately 100 kilometres from the Greek capital Athens, is known for its punishing rock-strewn gravel roads and searing ambient temperatures, which place a huge strain on car and crew alike. In order to maximise his high level of physical fitness, Fisher has spent time in a heat chamber provided by Sport Northern Ireland.

“We’re facing 30-degree temperatures in Greece so it’s really important to keep on top of your hydration,” said Fisher. “There’s a certain anticipation with doing this rally for the first time with everyone talking about the heat and the rough roads but I’m feeling ready.”

Ford goes for gold in Greece as Latvala returns from injury

Posted: May 21, 2012 11:50 AM

As the Olympic flame journeys from Greece to Britain for the London games, Ford World Rally Team heads in the opposite direction for one of the FIA World Rally Championship's classic fixtures. The team will go for gold in the gruelling Acropolis Rally of Greece (24 -27 May), traditionally a happy hunting ground for Ford, which has won there 13 times since the series began in 1973.

The squad is boosted by the return of lead drivers Jari-Matt Latvala and Miikka Anttila. Latvala missed the previous round in Argentina with a broken left collarbone, but proved his fitness at a two-day test in Portugal last week. They will join Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson in Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars for the four-day dirt event, which is significantly longer than the 2011 rally.

Seven of those wins came in the last 11 encounters of the most demanding round of the championship for man and machine. Air temperatures in the gravel speed tests around the Gulf of Corinth, west of Athens, will be close to 30ºC, with cockpit temperatures well above that. Driver fitness is crucial and regular fluid intake is vital to stave off dehydration and ensure peak performance.

Mechanically, success in Greece demands a blend of strength, reliability and speed. The undulating gravel tracks have a fearsome reputation and cars must withstand severe punishment from rocks which litter the surface, as well as unyielding bedrock which forms the base of the roads. The Fiesta RS WRCs will carry additional underbody protection to guard against damage.

The heat also places high demands on engines and gearboxes. The relatively slow mountain speed tests, punctuated by hairpins, offer little cooling from the flow of air, while a combination of the heat and abrasive road surface requires strong durability from Michelin's tyres.

Latvala has good experience of the Acropolis, dating back to 2003 when as an 18-year-old he finished 10th on his World Rally Car debut. He has seven starts to his name, with a best finish of third in 2009. The 27-year-old Finn covered 440km on his return to the wheel in testing and reported no discomfort from his collarbone injury.

'I was surprised how good it felt,' he said. 'I wore padding under the HANS device to spread the pressure across my chest and shoulders and it worked perfectly. We planned a shorter first day, but with no problems I drove a full schedule on the second day on a rougher road, and I felt no pain in my collarbone or shoulder. My recovery schedule has been tight but I'm confident I won't have to worry about the injury.

'We worked on the suspension and made a step forward, with the car feeling better in bedrock conditions. After so long out of the car I felt so happy and relieved that my skills were still there!

'It will be a hard rally and Saturday's leg will be especially difficult. It's longer than last year, with two passes over a new 21km stage, and it will be tough for the tyres in the heat. It will be important to manage the tyres well because tyre wear could be the most important aspect. You can drive at 95 per cent in those conditions, but to drive at 100 per cent all the time would be risky,' added Latvala.

Solberg has a strong record in Greece. He scored his first career podium there in 2001, won in 2004 and has five podium finishes from 11 starts.

'It's the roughest round of the season, but we'll see if it proves to be the toughest,' he said. 'There are many big rocks in Greece and that's what makes the rally so tricky. I learned a lot about rough road driving when Kenya's Safari Rally was part of the championship, and that's useful for Greece. You have to be smart with your driving in this type of event.

'The rough roads and heat are also hard for the tyres. But Michelin's tyres have been strong this year so I'm confident they'll be good here also. I had some bad luck on the last two rounds, but still scored good championship points after driving at 110 per cent to climb back up the order. Hopefully I can have a clean run and keep the points coming,' added the 37-year-old Norwegian.

Team News

* Michelin's Latitude Cross gravel tyres will be used by the Ford drivers and 48 of these will be available in hard compound. New-for-2012 regulations mean drivers will also have 10 soft compound tyres available if conditions are wet and muddy. However, only 48 units can be used in total during qualifying and the rally itself. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the tyres and each car can carry two spare wheels.

* Seven privately-entered Fiesta RS WRCs are entered. Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk and Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet are nominated by M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson is entered by Adapta World Rally Team, while Brazil World Rally Team will again be present with Daniel Oliveira / Carlos Magalhães. Martin Prokop / Zden'k Hr'za will crew the Czech Ford National Team car and the Fiesta RS WRC entries are completed by the Autotek entry of Spyros Pavlides / Nicolas Klinger and Ukraine's Oleksii Tamrazov / Oleksandr Gorbik.

* The rally marks the second round of the Ford-supported FIA WRC Academy. Eleven crews will drive Fiesta R2 rally cars over a shortened route before a Saturday lunchtime finish. Northern Ireland's Alastair Fisher and Daniel Barritt lead the series after the opening round in Portugal.

* The cars of Latvala and Solberg will sport the Worldwide Ford Rally Fans logo in Greece and next month's Rally New Zealand. In recognition of the support its members have pledged to Ford World Rally Team in recent months, the social media-founded organisation's motif will appear on the rear of both cars, as well as on several other Fiestas.

Rally Route

A fourth day of competition and a new-look opening leg bringing the return of classic roads are the main changes for the 2012 edition. Loutraki, at the head of the Corinth Canal, remains the rally base with the main service park on the edge of the town. After Thursday's start ceremony close to the spectacular Acropolis in central Athens, competitors tackle a single stage on the return route to Loutraki. Friday journeys north around the Gulf of Corinth to tackle stages near Itea that have not been used since 2009. It is the longest day, with almost 170km of competition and just two short service breaks in Itea. Saturday's route journeys west across the Corinth Canal for stages in the Peloponnese peninsula and Sunday's final leg is identical to last year and based east of Loutraki. Competitors tackle 22 stages covering 409.47km, 60km more than last year, in a route of 1661.39km.

TACTICAL BATTLE AWAITS M-SPORT'S YOUNG GUNS IN GREECE

Posted: May 21, 2012 11:50 AM

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team's Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tänak will be looking to make an impact as the World Rally Championship embarks on the toughest round of the season at the 59th Acropolis Rally next week.

First run in 1953, the Greek event is one of the longest-standing in the world series. Famed as one of the toughest events in the calendar, M-Sport's young guns will have to put all of their experience into practice as they contend with a mix of rough, twisting tracks through the region's mountain stages, blistering heat and dust making visibility a challenge.

As the ultimate test of man and machine, this classic event renders driver fitness crucial and demands a mechanical blend of strength, reliability and speed. With air temperatures reaching highs of over 30C, the conditions place high demands on the engine and gearbox with little cooling through the technically slow mountain climbs.

The event's fearsome reputation is exemplified by the rocks and underlying bedrock that litter the stages and M-Sport's rising stars will have a tactical battle ahead of them as they set their sights on another strong points haul.

Nevertheless, with the event holding the record for the highest number of rally victors ' with more than 20 drivers making it to the top step of the podium ' the duo will be keen to impress once again as they aim to translate their speed into another good result for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team.

Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet have had an impressive start to their 2012 campaign and are currently laying a credible fifth in the championship standings. Despite a disappointing start to the previous round in Argentina, the young Russian proved he had the pace to challenge the top-three with blistering speed over the final day to set three second and one third fastest stage times.

This will be Novikov's fourth venture to the Greek stages and the Russian will run with the Chelsea FC logo on his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Given the Russian affiliation with the English Premiership team, the association aims to illustrate ALM Rally's support for the club as they face Bayern Munich FC in the final of the UEFA Champions League this coming weekend.

Elsewhere, in spite of their obvious speed, it has been a difficult start to the season for Tänak and regular co-driver Kuldar Sikk. Despite claiming three stage victories, the Estonian's season has been blighted by misfortunes and the 24-year-old will be eager to prove his potential next week.

As well as supporting the FIA Action for Road Safety campaign, the Acropolis Rally will see Tänak sport the 'Worldwide Ford Rally Fans' logo on the rear of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC ' Ford and M-Sport's tribute to a whole host of social media groups which have been set up in support of the brand over the past year.

Evgeny Novikov said:
'The Acropolis Rally is one of my favourite rallies. It is really challenging and you have to be on the maximum with speed and concentration. The roads are really rough and can be quite hard on the car so you have to know when you can push and when you can't.

'I have competed here three times before, but the earlier date this year means that the roads may be much rougher than they have been in the past. We will have to wait and see what to expect.

'This will be my first time back in the car since Argentina as we will have no pre-event testing, but for sure we will be looking to do our best for another top-five finish.'

Ott Tänak said:
'This is a really nice event. I competed in Greece last year and most of the roads are ok, but some of them can be really rough and you have to be careful and make sure your pacenotes are really detailed. With the earlier date for this year's event, it is hard to know exactly what to expect ' but I am looking forward to getting back in the car.

'The last few events have not been too good for us and this event will be all about making it to the end and getting some good points on the board. I'm constantly working on my training, and hopefully this event will see me regain my pace and my confidence behind the wheel.'

FIA WRC ACADEMY CREWS SET TO TACKLE LEGENDARY ACROPOLIS

Posted: May 21, 2012 11:45 AM

The FIA WRC Academy crews will embark on one of the biggest challenges in their careers next week as they tackle the infamous Acropolis Rally. Famed as one of the toughest events on the WRC calendar, this year's competitors will have to utilise all of their training as they look to conquer the ultimate test of both man and machine.

Supported by Ford Racing in Europe and with control tyres from Pirelli, this will be the WRC Academy's first venture to the Greek event, which will provide the setting for the youngsters' most challenging test to date. The identical Ford Fiesta R2s that make up the WRC Academy field have been strengthened to cope with restricted cooling in the slow corners of the twisting mountain tracks and withstand severe punishment from the rocks and underlying bedrock that litter the stages.

As one of the longest-standing rallies in the World Rally Championship (WRC), the 59th Acropolis Rally may prove less torturous than the five-day events of the past, but with temperatures reaching highs of over 30C and the earlier scheduling rendering the roads more abrasive than last year, the WRC Academy crews will have to adapt a blend of strength, reliability, speed and intelligence as they look to secure a strong result.

Crews will contest the 25km Super Special on Thursday evening before tackling the opening loops on Friday and Saturday. Despite contesting no repeat stages, this year's WRC Academy contenders will have the opportunity to drive some of the most classic stages in Greece with runs over 'Bauxites' and 'Drossohori' as well as new challenges on the final day of competition through the beautiful Peloponnese peninsula.

Leading the WRC Academy following his victory at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal last month, Alastair Fisher (23) will be looking to maintain his lead. The Northern Irishman has been working with Sport Northern Ireland to ensure that he is in the best physical shape for the demands ahead ' making best use of the programme's heat chamber to test his fitness. As well as securing third place in the Fiesta SportTrophy UK series on the Pirelli International Rally earlier this month, Fisher has completed two extensive tests to ensure maximum seat-time before he rejoins regular co-driver Daniel Barritt for their debut on the Greek stages.

The Acropolis Rally marks a real mile-stone for the brother and sister pairing of Brendan Reeves (23) and Rhianon Smyth. Competing together since 2002, the second round of the WRC Academy will mark the duo's 50th event together ' 14 of which have been outside of their native Australia. Since securing second place in Portugal, Reeves and Smyth contested the Targa Tasmania Rally ' a five-day endurance event on home soil in which they were running third in their modified Mazda RX8 SP before a mechanical problem forced them to retire. Reeves is currently training in Austria with the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy and will be looking to put all of his training and experience to good use as he makes his Greek debut next week.

Following a fantastic debut in the Ford Fiesta R2 last month, WRC Academy rookie Pontus Tidemand (21) returns to the one-make series eager to build upon his third place in the standings. The Swede has had a host of seat-time since the previous event. After taking class victory at Rally Sørland in Norway, Tidemand drove the zero-car on a local Swedish event, tested a Fabia S2000 and also completed a two-day test with fellow Swede Ingemar Svensson's Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Next up, the 21-year-old will contest the third round of the Swedish Rally Championship alongside WRC Academy co-driver Stig Rune Skjærmoen before looking to emulate his recent Scandinavian successes on the international stage in Greece.

Also keen to replicate his good form from the previous round in Portugal, Timo Van Der Marel (22) will be looking for another strong result. The KNAF supported driver contested the 2012 Rallye Sulingerland earlier this month alongside co-driving girlfriend and former WRC Academy contender, Rebecca Smart. The pairing finished 14th overall and second in the Nissan Cup to lead the 350Z Challenge in their Nissan 350Z. Van Der Marel is also attending the fourth workshop of the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy where he will complete a number of practical seminars on physical fitness and driving style ' sessions which will prove valuable as he rejoins Erwin Berkhof for the Acropolis Rally next week.

After claiming three stage wins in Portugal, the Scandinavian pairing of Fredrik Åhlin (21) and Morten Erik Abrahamsen will also return to competition in Greece. Since the season opener, Åhlin has been working for Audi as a driving instructor in Denmark. The 21-year old teaches an advanced driving course for the manufacturer and put his own skills to the test with some hot-laps in an Audi R8. The Swede will be back behind the wheel as he contests the South Swedish Rally this weekend where he and Abrahamsen aim to finalise preparations for their debut assault on the Acropolis Rally.

Also returning to the WRC Academy in Greece, Jose Suárez (21) will be reunited with regular co-driver, Candido Carrera. Since Portugal, the asphalt specialist contested Rally Auxerrois ' a gravel round in the French Championship ' to perfect his ever-improving driving style on loose-surface events. Despite being forced to retire from the rally with mechanical problems, the extra seat-time and recce will see the Spaniard well placed as he looks for a strong result on the gravel stages of the classic Greek event where he welcomes new sponsor, ACSM Marine Services.

Currently leading the British Rally Championship (BRC) in his Ford Fiesta R2, Elfyn Evans (23) will be looking to replicate his home success on the international stage. The Welshman has secured victory on every round of the Fiesta SportTrophy UK series this year, as well as a string of top-five finishes in the BRC to lead the championship ahead of a host of more powerful R3 specification cars. Evans' consistency and mechanical sympathy, combined with his obvious pace, is set to prove an advantage as he makes his debut on the Acropolis Rally. In a change from the previous event in Portugal, Evans will be joined by the 2007 and 2008 BRC Champion, Phil Pugh. Having contested the J-WRC alongside Guy Wilks from 2004 ' 2006, Pugh brings a wealth of experience from international events in both the WRC and Intercontinental Rally Championship.

After debuting in the WRC Academy on his home event in Portugal, João Silva (24) will return to the one-make series with a new co-driver ' Hugo Magalhães. It has been a busy month for the Portuguese pairing as they work on building their relationship ahead of the second round of the season. Having run together as the zero-car on the third round of the Portuguese Championship, the pairing have also been training hard to make sure they are in top shape for the demanding event. This week also saw the duo conclude a test with the Ford Fiesta R2. Having completed 70 kms, the twosome learnt a lot about the car and are confident of finding a good set-up in Greece.

Also returning to the WRC Academy, John MacCrone (23) will be looking to put the disappointment of Portugal behind him where he was forced to Rally 2 following damage to his Ford Fiesta R2 on the opening day of competition. The Scotsman contested the second round of the Scottish Tarmac Rally Championship at Ingliston earlier this month. Despite being forced to retire from the event with a mechanical issue, MacCrone secured three fastest stage times in his Ford Fiesta R2 to out-perform a number of more powerful specification cars. Making their debut at the Acropolis Rally, MacCrone and fellow Scot Stuart Loudon will also welcome a new sponsor to their squad ' Glengorm Castle on the Isle of Mull.

Also keen to put the disappointment of Portugal behind him, Chris Duplessis (24) makes a welcome come-back to the one-make series after being forced to retire from the previous round with accident damage to the rear of his Ford Fiesta R2 on the final stage. Returning to the States, the charismatic American has spent two weeks working and training at the DirtFish Rally School in Washington. Working on perfecting his pacenotes with the skills learnt from Ford World Rally Team's Chris Patterson last month, Duplessis and regular co-driver Karl Atkinson will put their training into practice as they debut on the Acropolis Rally next week ' an event where detailed pacenotes can make all the difference.

Finally, making his official debut in the WRC Academy, South African Ashley Haigh-Smith (19) brings the number of represented continents to four. As the youngest driver in the series, the 19-year-old is currently competing in the South African Rally Championship in a Ford Fiesta R2 and had been comfortably leading his class on the previous round at the Sasol Rally until collecting three punctures and ultimately being forced to retire from the event. Haigh-Smith has also been the driving force behind an exciting project in his native South Africa which offers an extended driving experience with the youngster and donates 20 per cent of the proceeds to charity. Accompanied by accomplished co-driver Craig Parry ' who is currently leading the BRC co-driver standings ' Haigh-Smith will be looking for a good result on his Greek debut.

Series leader, Alastair Fisher said:
'This will be my first time competing on the Acropolis Rally. There's a lot of anticipation as we all know the reputation it has as one of the toughest events on the calendar, but I am really looking forward to the challenge.

'It is one of those events where anything can happen. It is important to have a good recce and you need to keep your head down, keep the concentration and stay out of trouble.

'I've been working hard on my fitness with Sport Northern Ireland which should see me well placed for the physical demands. I've completed a number of fitness tests with them and also been lucky enough to have use of their heat chamber as well as working on my own fitness in the gym.'

Making his debut as a registered WRC Academy driver, Ashley Haigh-Smith said:
'The WRC Academy is the place to be if you want to learn and eventually progress into top-level rallying. The competition [in the feeder series] is just as tough as it is amongst the P1 drivers and, with an equal playing field for everyone, it is just the driver and the navigator who make the difference which gives us the perfect opportunity to show what we can do behind the wheel.

'I'm feeling good ahead of Greece. For sure it will be a tough opening event for us, but I am looking forward to the challenge and we have been working hard to ensure a strong result. In South Africa we don't conduct a recce as you would in the WRC, so I have spent the past two days working on my recce and pacenote skills up in the mountains.

'The roads in South Africa are pretty rough, so hopefully that will give us a slight advantage. But we have nothing to prove on the first event. For us, it will be about trying to find some consistency and getting our pace up to that of those who have had the benefit of an extra event.'

DMACK Plays Joker With New Gravel Tyre In Greece

Posted: May 21, 2012 11:44 AM

DMACK will introduce a new specification gravel tyre for next week's Acropolis Rally of Greece which features a closed tread pattern and newly-developed compounds.

The new DMG+2 features a tread pattern similar to the successful DMG+ gravel tyre, which took DMACK to its best-ever finish of fourth place a few weeks ago at Rally Argentina, but with a more closed pattern.

The new design will give the tyre greater high-speed stability and help improve durability on harder surfaces. The tyre will be available to world rally competitors in S1 and H1 compounds. The S1 is identical to the soft compound successfully campaigned to top-six finishes at Rally GB and Rally Argentina but the H1 is a newly-developed hard compound which should deliver enhanced durability.

The inside block design has also been improved to increase grip on bedrock and hard, polished road surfaces.

The new specification has been introduced in line with the FIA's technical regulations allowing tyre manufacturers to nominate one new gravel and one new asphalt specification per season.

For next week's Acropolis rally, DMACK has nominated the H1 compound which is hoped will take on the challenge delivered by one of the toughest championship events. The Acropolis is famed for its rocky roads with abrasive bedrock bases and is demanding on tyres, cars and drivers.

As well as rough rally stages, the low average speeds and high number of corners, combined with high ambient temperatures, puts extra pressure on tyres in terms of heat and durability.

As tyre partner to the Rally Class category, DMACK will supply the one-make series crews who run identical Subaru Imprezas. Nicolas Fuchs, who led the PWRC category for much of Rally Argentina, and three privateer drivers in Citroen DS3s will also run on DMACK's new tyre.

Event Details

Based again in Loutraki, close to the mouth of the Corinth Canal, the rally will kick off with a ceremonial start near the Acropolis in the centre of Athens on Thursday night followed by the opening special stage. Friday sees a long day of action using stages around Itea which haven't been used for three years, punctuated by two remote services in Itea itself.

Saturday boasts eight stages closer to Loutraki and Sunday rounds off the action with just five tests. In total, crews will tackle 409 competitive kilometres across 22 special stages.

Dick Cormack, DMACK motorsport director, said:
'After our highest-ever finish on the last event in Argentina, we've continued to focus on the evolution and development of our gravel tyres. The new DMG+2, which we will introduce in Greece, has been developed from competitors' feedback and technical evaluation on the events so far this year. We hope its will help us build on our on-going progress and success.'

PIRELLI-SUPPORTED WRC ACADEMY PREPARES FOR GREECE

Posted: May 21, 2012 11:42 AM

Pirelli will face a tall order next week as the second round of the FIA WRC Academy moves to Greece for the most demanding round of the championship: the Acropolis Rally (25-27 May).

Renowned as one of the toughest rallies on the world rally calendar due to the blisteringly hot weather conditions and rock-stewn roads, Pirelli will be on hand to supply the WRC Academy crews with the highly successful K4 tyre.

Pirelli has developed a version of the K4 tyre specifically to suit the Ford Fiesta R2 in 175/70-15 K4 size. Based on the vastly successful Scorpion cover that was used on the World Rally Championship from 2008-2010, the K4 WRC Academy tyre is lighter than the Scorpion with a focus on performance as well as outright durability.

Crews competing in this year’s WRC Academy now span four continents with the recent announcement that South Africa’s Ashley Haigh-Smith has signed up to the six-round series. The driver is able to take advantage of a new rule for 2012 that allows crews to nominate five out of six rounds to score points. Moreover, confirmation of Haigh-Smith’s entry now means drivers from Africa, Australia, North America and Europe will be competing for championship honours. After his win on the opening round in Portugal, Britain’s Alastair Fisher is currently leading the WRC Academy by eight points. To help him prepare for his assault on the world stage, the Northern Irish driver has been busy competing in the Pirelli-supported British Rally Championship at the wheel of a Fiesta R2.

Former Pirelli Star Driver Global Shootout winner, Brendan Reeves, is second in the championship. One of six selected to compete in last year’s WRC Academy backed by Pirelli, the Australian finished fifth in 2011, and will be aiming for a podium finish next week in an attempt to overhaul Fisher from the top of the leaderboard.

Last year’s Pirelli Star Driver – Elfyn Evans – finished runner-up in the highly competitive MSA British Rally Championship, and the experience has enabled the 23-year-old Welshman make the transition up to the WRC Academy where he is currently lying seventh overall.

Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s motorsport director said:
“The Acropolis Rally is one of the toughest and most historic events on the calendar, where the Academy drivers will have to deal with high temperatures and extremely rough roads, containing plenty of rocks and loose gravel. These conditions are just as punishing for the tyres as they are for the cars and drivers, but when we were exclusive suppliers to the World Rally Championship between 2008-2010, we had a failure rate of less than 0.02%, which just underlines the strength and reliability of our products even in the most arduous conditions. So we hope that the Academy drivers will be able to learn as much as possible from the Greek stages: in order to do that, their primary objective has to be to finish the rally. The competition in the Academy is incredibly tight at the moment, which puts the emphasis on getting as much as possible out of the equipment – including the tyres – as well as natural raw speed. In order to succeed, modern rally drivers have to be the complete package: our tyres are designed to help the Academy drivers develop these vital all-round attributes.”

NASSER AL-ATTIYAH AND THIERRY NEUVILLE LOOK TO SCALE NEW HEIGHTS

Posted: May 21, 2012 11:40 AM

After finishing in the points in the last few rallies, the Nasser Al- Attiyah/Giovanni Bernacchini (Qatar WRT) and Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Citroën Junior WRT) crews head into the Acropolis Rally looking to achieve more of the same. On one of the most demanding courses of the season, the DS3 WRC drivers will be aiming to build on the progress they have made in climbing up the ranks of the FIA World Rally Championship.

An event that has featured on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar since it was created, over the years the Acropolis Rally has maintained its reputation as a particularly difficult test. Run on roads either side of the Corinth Canal, the Greek stages offer drivers a multi-faceted test. Once again this year, the rally and its warm, summery conditions will present the men and their machines with a stern challenge.

Considered to be an experienced driver, Nasser Al-Attiyah will actually only be competing in his fifth rally in a World Rally Car. Although he is still learning about the car, the Qatari has already shown part of his potential. In the points in the last three rallies, he is only behind Loeb, Hirvonen, Solberg and Ostberg in total points scored on the gravel rallies…

“We are on a good run, with good performances in Mexico, Portugal and Argentina,” reiterated Nasser. “I was disappointed not to have had done better in Argentina, but we showed that we can mix it with the leaders.”

“The Acropolis Rally is a difficult rally,” he continued. “My experience on rough gravel rallies will be an advantage, although I know that the pace will be very strong at the front. My goal is to achieve the best possible result. I’d be more than happy to finish in the top 5, whilst narrowing the gap to the leaders!”

Equally making good progress, Thierry Neuville has finished in the points on two occasions, with eighth place in Portugal and fifth position – a career best to date – in Argentina. In what will be his sixth rally in the DS3 WRC and his first experience of the Acropolis Rally, the Belgian knows that he is taking on a legendary event in the world of rallying.

“It’s great to have finished in the points in the last two events, but I hope from now on I can make it to the end without having to use the Rally2 rules. I need to produce the kind of performance that can act as a benchmark for the rest of the season,” emphasized Thierry. “We have already learned a lot in the first five rallies, especially in Portugal and Argentina, on really difficult surfaces. For Greece, my challenge is to complete the twenty-two stages. The Acropolis Rally is a very difficult round, with rougher gravel than anywhere else on the calendar. But the leaders will nonetheless be imposing a very strong pace. Our job will be to get the balance right, in order to acquire as much experience as possible”

Citroen - GO, GREECE LIGHTNING!

Posted: May 21, 2012 11:40 AM

The FIA World Rally Championship continues its long series of gravel rallies in Greece. Renowned for its unforgiving route, the Acropolis Rally has over the years become a long sprint for the leading contenders. Both previous winners of the event, the Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen crews will be looking to claim another victory for Citroën Total World Rally Team.

Included in the World Rally Championship calendar since it was created in 1973, the Acropolis Rally has moved with the times. Whereas back then the average speed of the winner didn’t top 70kph, it is now close to 90kph. Increasingly well prepared and able to withstand the demands of what remains an incredibly testing route, the crews and their cars eat up the ground at a cracking pace.

With this in mind, Friday’s leg represents a genuine test of the drivers’ valour. After leaving Loutraki at 6am sharp, the competitors will cover some 170km of stages, not returning to the service park until 9pm. Only two 15-minute remote service periods – during which the cars can only be repaired using the spare parts brought along – will be available to patch up the scars left by the Greek stages.

World Championship leader with three wins obtained in Monte-Carlo, Mexico and Argentina, Sébastien Loeb has achieved two of his seventy career wins in Greece. After winning in the Xsara WRC (2005) and the C4 WRC (2008), the eight-time World Champion would like to complete the series with the DS3 WRC.
“It’s a multi-faceted rally: some stages are on very smooth and quick roads. Others, however, are littered with rocks which are not kind to the suspension. Depending on the heat, tyre management can have a major impact on the outcome of the race,” warned Seb. “Often, the time set on a single stage isn’t that significant. You need to look at the result for the entire loop before starting to draw any conclusions. Obviously, I’ll be aiming to win. I had the potential to win in 2011 and I am determined to do so this year!”

Winner here in 2009, Mikko Hirvonen admits he has rather mixed feelings about this event:
“It’s not my favourite rally, but I don’t hate it either. We are competing in a World Championship and we must therefore take part in rallies that are varied and representative of all types of surface. The Acropolis Rally is one of the major classics of the WRC and it has not lost its reputation for having the most difficult route. However, you have to say we are driving flat out pretty much the whole time! Obviously, we’ll need to look after the engine and gearbox and the tyres, but I think that a significant part of the outcome is determined during the pre-rally preparatory tests. During these test sessions, you need to make sure the car is sufficiently robust to handle the difficult conditions. As the Citroën DS3 WRCs managed a one-two finish last year, I’m not worried about our ability to challenge for the win.”

Currently third in the World Championship standings, behind Sébastien Loeb and Petter Solberg, Mikko is determined to show he is improving in the coming rounds: “Rally Argentina gave me the chance to take another step forward. I feel totally comfortable in the quick sections. We have done a lot of work with the team and we have made some changes which are more to my liking. I feel very confident about the rest of the season.”

THREE QUESTIONS FOR… YVES MATTON

The Citroën Total World Rally Team achieved a one-two in Argentina after you told Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen to hold their positions. Wasn’t the gap between the two drivers too narrow to do that?
“This kind of decision is never easy to take, but we had to take action to ensure that we achieved the goals that we had set for ourselves, namely to keep the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ World titles. After drawing a blank in Portugal, Rally Argentina worked out well for us. Given the lead that our crew had established and the difficulties that still lay ahead, the sensible choice was clearly to ask Seb and Mikko to hold position. Every member of the team, starting with the drivers, knows how important for Citroën to win this titles. Clearly, it may seem particularly tough on Mikko after the way Rally de Portugal ended, but I hope that we’ll see him win his first rally with us in the very near future.”

How would you say the first five rallies of the 2012 season have gone for you?
“The most important point is obviously to lead the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ World Championship standings. I don’t think, however, that we can come to any definitive conclusions at this stage of the season. After Monte-Carlo, Sweden and Mexico, we thought that in Portugal we would get a clearer idea of the pecking order between the leading contenders in the Championship. The weather prevented us from seeing a proper contest. In Argentina, our rivals had problems just when our crews began to hit top form. In the end, we still haven’t seen a genuine scrap on a level playing field. I think that we undoubtedly have some stiff competition and I’m certain that we are going to see some very hotly contested rallies in the next few rounds. Although we have established a lead in terms of points, this championship is far from over!”

The way that the WRC is managed has undergone significant changes in recent months. What is your view of the current situation?
“When I was appointed Citroën Racing Team Principal in January of this year, the WRC found itself without a promoter at the same time. The FIA and the organisers of the first few rounds have fulfilled their role to make sure that the rallies have been held in best possible conditions. In comparison with my previous experience of WRC, I am pleased with the working relations between the manufacturers and the FIA. The team led by Michèle Mouton, Jarmo Mähönen and Alexandre Gueschir listens to our concerns. Each side understands the constraints and aspirations of the other stakeholders and we are moving forward in the right direction. The future of our sport will depend both on the heritage of the World Rally Championship and our capacity to move forward with the new technologies both in communications and automotive industry.”

WRC Team MINI Portugal Acropolis Rally Preview: Rallying with the Gods

Posted: May 21, 2012 11:34 AM

Ciao a tutti!

'A quick introduction - I'm Bruno De Pianto, Team Manager of WRC Team MINI Portugal and I'm going to keep you up to speed with the team's adventures during Acropolis Rally of Greece, sixth round of the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship.

'We've had a couple of hectic weeks since we got back from Argentina. First, we took part in MINI United last weekend at the legendary Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France. Thousands of MINIs of every shape and colour you can imagine gathered from all over the world for a weekend of pure fun with MINI family and friends! It was great ' we were representing MINI's involvement in the WRC and we had an awesome time!

'Then it was straight back to the Motorsport Italia workshop and all systems go preparing for Greece and working hard to be 100% ready for one of the toughest challenges on the WRC calendar. The rally offers rough gravel roads, high temperatures, many, many stones and some of the most iconic stages in the whole of the WRC. As always we'll be out in force at the Acropolis Rally with our two crews Armindo Araújo and Miguel Ramalho and Paulo Nobre with Edu Paula. Both crews know the rally from previous years and we're focused on getting the best result possible.

'Greece feels like my second home, because I worked on the Greek Rally Championship for six years ' from 2004 to 2009 ' for our sister team Ralliart Italia managing Greek driver Aris Vovos. We used to do eight to 10 rallies per year in Greece so I got to know the country quite well. It's an amazing place - great weather, great food, nice beaches and a fantastic history.

'There are two places in Greece I like most. One is Porto Carras in the north of Greece ' where the ELPA Rally used to be ' there's a casino, it's on the sea and there's a fantastic golf course where I used to play golf with my driver. The other place I really like is Olympia, it's unbelievable that that very place is where the Olympic Games were held for the first time - thousands of years ago ' and where the Olympic torch is still lit before each modern games. It's incredible being so close to a part of history. I have good memories from that place, I went there in 2002 for my first rally in Greece and have competed there about 10 times since. That's exactly where this photo was taken during my first time competing on a rally in Greece. Quite incredibly, you can see my friend and WRC Team MINI Portugal mechanic Roby also working on the car in photo ' which just shows how far back some of the relationships in the team stretch!

'After working in Greece for four years, in late 2007 Armindo joined us to compete in the PWRC. I did one more season in the Greek Championship and then my focus turned solely to the WRC. With Ralliart Italia first and since last year also with Motorsport Italia and the MINIs. It gets really busy at times but I love the sport and I really enjoy traveling around the world doing my job!

'I've just arrived in Greece, along with some of my team where it's quite unusually pouring with rain! We collected some MINIs to use during our stay from the local MINI dealer in Athens and then travelled to Loutraki where the rally is based. Today we will start to prepare the service park, then tomorrow we begin preparations for the Acropolis Rally with a pre-event test with both our drivers.

'I'll keep you up-to-date with WRC Team MINI Portugal's adventures throughout the rally.

'Ciao for now!
Bruno

Entry List

Posted: May 1, 2012 9:44 AM

Rally Guide / Event Website / Details

Posted: May 1, 2012 9:41 AM

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