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Acropolis Rally WRC (P) - 29-01 Jun 08

Posted: June 2, 2008 1:17 PM - 4983 Hits

Round 7 - 2008 World Rally Championship

Suzuki at its strongest with the SX4 WRC taking Acropolis points

Posted: June 2, 2008 1:22 PM

The final day of the Acropolis Rally of Greece took crews through another six tough stages to the north of Athens, with the last test being played out in front of thousands of passionate rally fans at the superspecial at Tatoi military airbase, the event’s base for the last three days. Sweden’s P-G Andersson turned in a sensational day at the wheel of his Suzuki SX4 WRC. He was only out of the top 10 times once and managed one fifth and one sixth quickest time after a trouble-free day. Unfortunately, not even the double Junior World Rally Champion’s scintillating pace through these rockiest of roads was enough to land him a top 10 position on the event. Andersson’s team-mate Toni Gardemeister did collect a top-10 finish, placing the sister SX4 WRC in ninth place after a similarly straightforward day.

Despite three days of high drama and astonishingly tough competition, Suzuki has had one of its SX4 WRCs in the top 10 for the duration of the toughest round of the World Rally Championship so far this season. Andersson climbed as high as sixth overall before slipping back on yesterday’s second day.

Gardemeister’s Suzuki remained reliable, save for a small problem on day two due to a damaged exhaust system. The team’s reward for its effort on the Acropolis comes in the shape of both cars scoring points in the manufacturers’ championship.

Car news – Suzuki SX4 WRC n.11 (Gardemeister), n.12 (Andersson):
Toni Gardemeister was pleased with the tweaks the Suzuki World Rally Team made to his car yesterday. His only problem through the day was being caught in the dust after he caught competitors starting in the stage ahead of him.
P-G Andersson re-started the event this morning after suffering from suspension trouble yesterday, but despite the intensely rough conditions, the SX4 WRC didn’t suffer any similar troubles, allowing him to take the car to its most competitive day in the championship so far.

Driver news:
Toni Gardemeister: “We’ve had a good day today. The dust has been quite bad on some of the stages. With the very hot conditions and the rocky roads, when there is no wind around, you know the dust can stay around. I was pleased with the car. Today the engine felt very good. This rally shows we are going in the right direction with the car and making very good progress.”

P-G Andersson: “The car has been fantastic today. I’ve really enjoyed driving in these stages, we’ve had a lot of fun. Parts of the third and sixth stage were so rough, you couldn’t believe it – but we came through without the car missing a beat. It’s been perfect. My only problem today was this morning, when I missed one junction in the dust. This is a great event for the whole team – particularly coming on the back of Sardinia which was strong for us as well. Now we’re all looking forward to Turkey in two weeks.”

Team news:
Paul Wilding, Suzuki World Rally Team manager: “The team has achieved its objectives here on probably the toughest rally the World Rally Championship will encounter all season. It’s been amazingly rough in places, but Suzuki and the SX4 WRC has encountered less problems than many of its rivals. We have picked up manufacturers points with both cars and set some great times along the way. All-in-all, this has been a very good event for us. We go home from here happy and looking forward to the challenges which lie in wait.”

Silverware for SWRT on all-new Impreza’s debut

Posted: June 2, 2008 1:20 PM

The debut of the all-new Subaru Impreza WRC2008 was marked in style with second position overall at the close of the Acropolis Rally, the most challenging event on the WRC calendar. On the final day, Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot were fastest on the opening stage, whilst Petter Solberg and Phil Mills crossed the finish to clinch their best result of the season.

The final day of competition on the Acropolis Rally of Greece faced competitors with stages of a very different nature. The seven tests were run on a much looser and even dustier surface, leading to generally reduced grip levels over yesterday when the longevity the Pirelli tyres was tested to the extreme. Although the first two stages were less rocky, the final test of the morning was incredibly rough.

“Chris continued his development and testing of the car today and tried a few new things that proved successful, giving him a dominant stage win this morning” said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. “Today was a day of consolidation for Petter and Phil. You can take nothing for granted on a rally like Acropolis until the very end, and Petter’s task was to bring the car home unscathed on a very challenging day that saw his brother drop from the lead trio.

“Many thought our decision to come here was risky but I’d like to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of our test team whose efforts have been totally vindicated. We are now onto the next stage of development for the WRC2008. We’ve completed the first event, and the many lessons we have learned here will stand us in good stead for the second half of the season.”

Solberg and Mills consolidated a solid weekend aboard their new Impreza WRC2008 by retaining a remarkable second position overall. After a steady morning in which the pair took no risks and focused on simply driving to the finish, they marked a key milestone in the team’s illustrious history.

“Ah! This is just incredible! I am so, so pleased. I can’t put it into words!” exclaimed an excitable Solberg. “It is so good to be back here again, and so important. I’m so happy for the team who’ve put in so much work to get this car ready. It’s incredible, I can’t believe it. First time in the new car, second is not bad at all! We knew it would be tough here but to finish second is just great. It’s what everyone has been waiting for. Phil and I, the team, the fans, everybody. This car has so much potential, I mean so much. This is it, we’re coming back!”

Atkinson and Prévot set out to prove a point this morning. They left the service park for the first stage focused and fired up, and promptly delivered the Impreza WRC2008 its first stage win on its debut event.

After his electric pace during the day’s opener, Atkinson had a spin on the second stage of the morning whilst running third fastest. Normally this would cost no more than a few seconds but, being the unforgiving Acropolis Rally, it lead to damage to his rear suspension when he struck a rock.

Completing the remainder of the test, he was nevertheless unable to start stage 16 and was forced into retirement.

“It’s good to get the first stage win for the new car on its first rally; it’s a good feeling” said Chris Atkinson. “It obviously hasn’t been a good weekend for points for us, but other people have had bad luck this year and we were just unlucky this time. We wanted to see what the car would do and it felt good this morning, which showed in the speed. We can be faster though as there is still more to come. When we get the package just right we’ll be a lot faster still.”

Points result slips away from Munchi’s in Greece

Posted: June 2, 2008 1:18 PM

The seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship has led the Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team so close to a points finish in the Acropolis Rally of Greece. Federico Villagra/José María Volta put in a valiant effort to finish just one position off a Manufacturers’ Championship point despite retiring from day 2 action.

Joining the Munchi’s Ford WRT for this event was local ace Aris Vovos and his co-driver Loris Meletopoulos. After a solid start to the rally a steering problem on day 2 saw their retirement from the event and the 12th position they held at the time.

Villagra began well on the opening day and by the morning loop of stages on Saturday was constantly setting top-10 fastest stage times to occupy a very impressive sixth overall after 10 special stages. Villagra also changed co-drivers for the event, enlisting the help of Luis Pérez Companc’s regular co-driver after his own co-driver, Jorge Pérez Companc, was forced to stay home in Argentina for personal reasons.

Things were looking good for the Argentine until disaster struck just 10 kilometres into stage 11 when the rough conditions caused suspension damage to the rear left corner of his Ford Focus WRC07. Fortunately his technicians did a fantastic job to repair the car and have him back out fighting today.

Local rally legend Vovos began steadily before improving quickly on his pace setting a multitude of top-10 times on the opening day. Crossing the finish line to the biggest cheer of the night on Friday, the Greek businessman was 13th outright and closing fast on the top-10 leaderboard.

Unfortunately day 2 did not go to plan when he was forced to retire with broken steering on the 16.6 kilometre Pissia 1 test. As a result Vovos retired from the event which he has competed on more than any other current competitor in the WRC.

Thursday night saw the ceremonial start return to the foothills of the Acropolis after a five year absence from the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thousands of devoted rally fans packed the centre of Athens to see their favourite rally stars at an autograph session before crews crossed over the start-ramp.

This year Rally HQ moved north of Athens to the Tatoi military airbase which also hosted the 4.6 kilometre Tatoi super special. Typical of the Acropolis event spectator numbers were of healthy proportion as crews powered through 20 special stages over three days of hot competition.

The next rally in the Munchi’s Ford WRT’s 10 event WRC campaign takes the Argentine outfit to the Rally of Turkey in just 10 days time. Villagra will again contest the event as the team’s number one driver and he will be joined by Scotsman Barry Clark who will contest just his second WRC event in a World Rally Car.

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Federico Villagra said:
“The rally was very difficult but generally I enjoyed it and I liked the stages. I’m happy with my times and we have improved well during this event; this really helps with the next rally so close. The stages were very rough especially on the second pass and because of this we had our problem with the broken suspension. But that issue aside, I am happy with the driving and we had a reasonably problem free rally. It was hard work to avoid the rocks and it’s very easy to push too hard and make a mistake. I remembered some of the stages from last year which helped, especially when we were making our pacenotes and I hope that we will also be able to continue this good feeling with the car on the next round.”

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Aris Vovos said:
“We started off the rally quite steadily but had a small problem with too must dust getting into the car. It was difficult to drive like this and difficult to concentrate also. But our times were getting better throughout Friday and we had got close to the top-10. We were going well on Saturday though until the steering came loose on the first stage. We tried to make repairs but then in the second stage it just became impossible to drive. The conditions were very rough especially on the first stage on Saturday and I’m not surprised that many drivers had problems also.”

Galli collects ‘Colin McRae Trophy’ in Greece

Posted: June 2, 2008 1:17 PM

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Gigi Galli has won the inaugural Colin McRae Trophy, offered by the organisers of the Acropolis Rally of Greece, by winning the 15.14 kilometre Avlonas 1 stage today with an average speed of 100.77kph.

The Organising Committee of the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally in commemoration of the late, great, Colin McRae decided to create the Colin McRae Trophy to award to the crew who achieved the highest average speed among all participants on any given stage, except for the two super specials.

Galli grew up in rallying idolising McRae before he began to make his mark in the WRC in 1999. He shares similar traits to the late Scotsman who was also renowned for his flamboyant style both on and off the stage. It is therefore fitting that Galli becomes the first competitor to put his hands around the trophy.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
“It is a very special feeling and a big honour to receive this award. Colin was a great hero of mine and to be compared to him is a real pleasure. My rally has not gone according to plan but I pushed as hard as I could when I could to get some fastest times and I’m sure he would have done the same thing in that position. People say we drive in the same style with a lot of energy and passion and it is fantastic when I hear this. Even with a bad rally this has really lifted my spirits.”

Hirvonen takes podium for Ford on gruelling Acropolis Rally

Posted: June 2, 2008 1:16 PM

Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen claimed a gutsy podium finish on Acropolis Rally of Greece today as Ford maintained its lead in the manufacturers' standings of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finns finished third in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after one of the roughest WRC events in recent memory. Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were seventh in a similar Focus RS on the three-day event, which proved a matter of survival as much as pure speed.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team holds a two-point lead after seven of the 15 rounds. Hirvonen staged a determined recovery after hitting problems on each of the first two days to remain in the midst of the battle for the drivers' title. He lies second, just one point off the lead.

The Acropolis is traditionally characterised by rock-strewn gravel tracks and searing temperatures and this year was no exception. Temperatures neared 35ºC and the roads were the roughest seen here in recent years. The rocks took a heavy toll on suspension parts while a combination of heat and rough roads ensured it was the toughest test yet for Pirelli's Scorpion tyres. Competitors tackled 20 speed tests covering 330.78km north and west of Athens, with yesterday's second leg a real car breaker.

The same rogue rock in the final few kilometres of the opening day cost Hirvonen and Latvala about a minute each with damaged suspension. Hirvonen dropped a further 2min 30sec yesterday morning when he slid into a bank, again damaging the suspension and brakes. However, the 27-year-old steered clear of trouble to recover to fourth and turned that into a podium today when third-placed Henning Solberg hit trouble.

"That was the hardest rally I've ever driven," said Hirvonen. "It was so rough and we had so many troubles that third is a great result. I've lost the championship lead but that will give me the advantage of a better start position on the next round in Turkey so it's still looking good. I saw that Henning had a problem this morning so I pushed hard. I didn't wake up this morning thinking about third, I just wanted to find good speed and secure fourth place points because I thought the time gap was too big.

"It's a nice surprise to be on the podium. It would have been difficult to beat Sébastien here but without our problems it would have been a good fight. Our emotions have been up and down and I thought we would be a long way behind Seb in the championship but it's only one point," he added.

Latvala recovered from sixth to fourth yesterday morning before a broken turbo pipe cost eight minutes and he dropped to eighth. The 23-year-old Finn gained a place today while displaying blistering speed. He won three of today's seven tests, covering 102.32km, to add to two wins earlier.

"I saw on the recce that it was going to be a hard rally but it was much rougher than I thought. I've learned that I need to find a balance. The car is strong but I have to be aware of what I can and can't do with it. I hope I've learned that and the next round in Turkey will be better for me. If yesterday had gone well I could have had a chance of winning. I was so disappointed when we were challenging again and I kept asking myself 'why me?' But that is how it is," he said.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished 12th in another Focus RS. "I didn’t push as hard as I wanted to because it was so rough out there. I was trying to hold nice straight lines and up my pace in the fast sections but in the narrow twisty areas I had to hold back This has been one of the hardest rallies I have ever driven. It was a constant battle to push for pace and protect the car and getting the balance right was a challenge to the entire field," said Al Qassimi.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "We have to accept that we have some issues that we need to address. From a drivers' point of view experience counted for a lot here." Mark Deans, Ford of Europe's motorsport director added: "Rallies rarely come tougher than this and I'm delighted we brought all three cars to the finish after a roller-coaster weekend. A podium was a reward for our perseverance, especially for our mechanics who worked so hard to keep the cars going."

Citroen Acropolis 08 Day 3

Posted: June 2, 2008 1:13 PM

Wilson finishes as Stobart’s Greek god

Posted: June 2, 2008 1:11 PM

The seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship threw everything at the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team this weekend with Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin leading the way with a superb sixth placed result on the Acropolis Rally of Greece.

Team-mates Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud pushed through Sunday setbacks to finish eighth overall and score three valuable manufacturer points for their Stobart team. Wilson’s fine result sees him move up to ninth in the Drivers’ Championship while Solberg occupies eighth. Solberg’s manufacturer points haul also keeps the Stobart team in sight of third place as they nestle just 13 points behind in fourth.

Solberg was set for a fine result coming into today’s final leg comfortably in third position overall. Unfortunately for the Norwegian a mysterious electrical issue caused his car to cut out several times during the stages and most prolifically on stage 17 this afternoon when he lost over five minutes. Still it was a gallant effort to bring his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 back in one piece and in a position to pick up some vital manufacturer points. Wilson had a fairly clean run all weekend due to safe and intelligent driving and good preservation of his Pirelli tyres which held up well throughout the event. The only major issue for the 21-year-old was a broken prop-shaft on stage 3 which lost him around 45 seconds.

Despite their four stage wins it was just not Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini’s rally as they retired on all three days. On day 1, just over 12 kilometres into stage 2, on a fast left hand corner the Italian hit a large rock in the middle of the road which immediately broke the front, right track control arm in the suspension and this in turn damaged the driveshaft. The exact incident was cruelly re-enacted this afternoon 15 kilometres into stage 18 ending what has been an unlucky event for the Italian star.

Re-entering day 2 under SupeRally regulations Galli picked up his first two stage wins on the morning loop of three stages but disaster struck in transit to the first test after service. He felt a vibration on the motorway and lost hydraulic pressure before arriving to the start of stage 11. As a result he lost the use of both his gear shift and differentials; important components to ensure the safe and efficient passage through the stages. On a brighter note, however, Galli won the inaugural Colin McRae Trophy, offered by the organisers of the Acropolis Rally of Greece, for achieving the highest average speed -100.77kph - on a stage.

With the shortening of two stages (Psatha and Avlonas) on this event and the lengthening of Assopia today, a total of 335.36 competitive kilometres took crews over 20 special stages. All three legs ran amongst the outskirts of Athens. Weather conditions were typical of a Greek summer with blistering hot temperatures and blue skies on all three days. The heat certainly took its toll on crews as cockpit temperatures marched well into the 40 degree centigrade bracket meaning fitness and concentration played a big role in performance.

The next event for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team will see all three crews travel to Rally of Turkey for another hot summer event. Both Solberg and Galli will again score for the squad on this historic rally for the Norwegian where he scored his first ever podium finish in the WRC, in 2006.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
“What a cruel rally this has been for us, I knew it would be tough but the conditions were very difficult indeed as you can see from the problems we had on all three days. But we have found a really good feeling with the car and a good speed which has meant some more fastest times and this is the most important thing for me. The only thing we need now is some more luck and hopefully in Turkey this will come. Even in the rough conditions the tyres worked well and I’m confident they will do a good job in Turkey also.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said: “I’m very disappointed with dropping those places today after working so hard throughout the rally. We concentrated on taking care of the car and preserving the tyres but still managed to put in some good times and I was delighted last night to have reached third position. But these thingshappen and although I am not very happy we will go to Turkey with a good feeling with the car and confident that we can set some good times and cope with the rough gravel conditions.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“I’m really pleased with our result here. I knew we had to improve on Sardinia when I didn’t have a good feeling with the car and we did just that. The times on the first day were really encouraging for me but unfortunately we had the prop-shaft problem which knocked us back. But we climbed back into a fantastic position then concentrated on preserving the car and getting round without any other major dramas; this was definitely an achievement in itself. Now I just want to keep improving and the result here will help me in Turkey where we will try for more decent times.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said: “It’s a shame for Henning that he missed out on a podium finish. He had a very sensible and measured drive and used his many years of experience to great effect and I’m disappointed that we were unable to locate the source of the problem. Gigi also had his problems but put in some great times and I’m sure he has learnt a lot about the conditions here that he can use to good effect on the next round in Turkey. Matthew has picked up some important driver points and by staying out of trouble and driving to the conditions, he was able to put Friday’s problems behind him and climb up six positions in two days.”

Stobart Group Ltd CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
“This classic event hasn’t provided a classic result for the Stobart team unfortunately, but Matthew’s maturity and determination has shone through. He and Scott really focused on getting back into the points and they drove a great rally to stay out of trouble. Henning was looking goodfor a fantastic podium finish but his last minute problem put paid to that. But it has been encouraging to see Gigi setting some more fastest times and I know all three crews will now be setting their sights on Turkey and chasing Subaru in the manufacturer’s race.”

SWRT replace saloon with hatchback for WRC classic

Posted: May 23, 2008 11:00 AM

The completely redesigned and eagerly anticipated Subaru Impreza WRC2008 will make its competitive debut on the classic Acropolis Rally, after an official introduction to the car on Wednesday evening before shakedown. Aboard their new machines, Solberg and Atkinson will relish the challenge of the season’s toughest event at the dawn of a new era for the Subaru World Rally Team.

Just one week after Rally Sardinia, in which the team has been working feverishly to ready the two Impreza WRC2008s for action, crews will barely have had time to catch their breath when they arrive in Greece for the iconic seventh round of the World Rally Championship.

This year sees a change to the norm as the event’s service park has been moved for the third year running, this time to the Tatoi military airport. Thursday’s spectator Superspecial stage has been similarly relocated to the roads surrounding the base.

One of the longest-standing events on the calendar, Acropolis has long been regarded as the season’s toughest event. Sitting well into European summertime, the gravel routes surrounding the ancient city of Athens will be notoriously hot and punishing on crews and cars alike, proving a stern test of the WRC’s youngest challenger. With temperatures climbing towards 40 degrees Celsius, the roads are some of the dustiest and roughest that competitors will see. What are best described as boulders line much of the mountainous route, whilst the many rocks that scatter the stages will put the Impreza WRC2008’s surefootedness to the test.

Underfloor protection is essential on this event to prevent damage to vulnerable components beneath the cars such as gearboxes and differentials. Although the hard compound Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyres that teams have used for the last four events have excelled themselves, the risk of punctures will be high and crews may find themselves having to consciously avoid some of the larger obstacles in their path.

In this rally of endurance, the most demanding on the calendar, the level of fitness of each driver will become very evident as they battle with searing in-car temperatures which will sap their strength and concentration. Durability here is as important as outright performance, and, as in Jordan, crews will pay particular attention to operating temperatures to keep the two Imprezas at their peak. Twenty stages will take competitors through 340 kilometres of racing to the north and west of the service park. Two passes of the new Tatoi spectator stage bring to a crescendo Friday and Sunday’s competition.

The Subaru World Rally Team have entered two all-new Impreza WRC2008s for the Acropolis Rally. Petter Solberg / Phil Mills will drive car number five and Chris Atkinson / Stéphane Prévot will be aboard number six. Solberg and Mills finished third on this event last year, and 2008 will be Atkinson’s fourth running. His highest finish was sixth last year, alongside Prévot.

Team quotes
David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal:
“Acropolis will see a very different Subaru World Rally Team as we return to full strength upon the debut of our new car. Whilst a very different look and direction for us, the WRC2008 is instantly recognisable as a Subaru and I am sure will continue the marque’s iconic heritage. I am confident of a very positive step forward in our pace in Greece, despite it being the toughest event of the year, and moreover its debut heralds a new chapter in the team’s illustrious history.”

Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: “Everyone who’s been in rallying for a long time likes going to Greece as it’s one of the great historic rallies. We’ll see a lot more base bedrock on the stages than in Sardinia, which makes the surface a lot harder. Using some of the old classic stages of the championship, it’s very, very challenging; the most challenging of the season for us. They’ve had a bad winter in Greece so the stages will be quite deteriorated already, and large rocks in the road always make the second passes harder. You get a good result from pushing as hard as possible without taking risks – it’s more of an endurance event.

“We’ve done a considerable amount of endurance mileage with the new car which of course we’re using for the first time in Greece, so this should stand us in good stead. The rally is bound to throw up new challenges to those we’ve faced in testing however and it’s an event likely to throw up surprises, but it’s a good tough weekend to quickly highlight areas in which we can fine-tune and continue to improve.”

Driver quotes
Petter Solberg: “We finished third here last year and this time we have the new car, so I’ll be really pushing for a strong result. It’s a very difficult event; very rocky and hot, and the stages have always been very rough so it’s hard on us and the cars. We’ve had a few days in the new car now, so I have a good feeling from it and really hope that we’ll be in a good position to fight at the front. I’ll be at 110 per cent, definitely.”

Chris Atkinson: “It’s the first time out in a new car so it’s very exciting but you’re always a little cautious! If the feeling’s good I’ll be pushing straight away. There’s no reason not to, and obviously I’m looking forward to the opportunity to see where we are with the car. We know it’s going to be a very tough event as there are so many variables, so it won’t be easy but I hope we can take another step in the right direction and start to close up to the frontrunners.”

Between the rallies
In the week between Acropolis and Sardinia, the drivers and co-drivers had one final test aboard their Impreza WRC2008s before arriving in Greece ready to drive them competitively for the first time.

In the short gap amidst the busiest time of the season, the majority of the equipment travelled from Sardinia straight to Athens, although of course the WRC2008s departed from the UK on trailers.

Photos of New Car:

Going gets tough as Ford strives to add to win record in Greece

Posted: May 23, 2008 10:56 AM

Rocky mountain tracks, punishing heat and physically demanding cockpit conditions are the hallmarks of the Acropolis Rally of Greece (29 May - 1 June), widely regarded as the toughest challenge in the FIA World Rally Championship calendar. It is a trial in which BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, leader of both the manufacturers' and drivers' standings, has excelled to claim six wins in the last eight years with the Focus RS World Rally Car.

Success in Greece, round seven of the 15-event series and one of the championship's classic fixtures, demands a blend of strength, reliability and speed. Drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila will hope to reproduce the form which powered them to second and third in Italy earlier this month to keep Ford on top in both title races. The team heads the manufacturers' battle by seven points and Hirvonen tops the drivers' table by three points.

The Acropolis Rally's 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 hard bedrock which forms the base of the roads. Air temperatures often exceed 30ºC, placing high demands on engines and gearboxes. Because the winding roads and hairpins make this a relatively slow rally (only Argentina was slower in 2007), there is little cooling from the through-flow of air.

Drivers, too, can expect a tough time 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. A regular fluid intake is also vital to stave off dehydration and ensure drivers and co-drivers operate at peak performance.

Twenty-seven-year-old Hirvonen finished third in both 2006 and 2007 and five starts have given him plenty of experience of what lies ahead.

"The Acropolis is usually the hottest rally in the championship but having been to Jordan last month where temperatures were close to 40ºC, I don't think we will experience that kind of heat here," said Hirvonen. "Although Jordan was also abrasive, I think Greece will be more so. There are plenty of loose rocks, especially during the second pass of stages, and the road base is hard bedrock. That's why the rally has earned its reputation as a car-breaker.

"The conditions are tough on cars and tyres but I'm not worried about either. The Focus RS has proved its strength many times. Pirelli's tyres have also been remarkably strong this year with few punctures. The heat and rough roads will combine to make tyre wear greater than on other gravel events so I'll need to remember that I must look after them," he added.

Latvala, fourth in the drivers' standings, made his World Rally Car debut in a Focus RS in Greece in 2003 when he was just 18. "That was a very special moment," said the 23-year-old Finn. "It was only my second world rally and I was so tired from the heat because it was a new experience for me in the hot conditions. My car was totally reliable and I finished 10th, which at 18 years old was amazing.

"This is my fifth start but I expect it to be just as tough. Last year's rally contained a 48km stage which gave us difficulties with tyres. This year that test has been split into two so it should be easier for tyres, cars and drivers. My podium in Italy has given me great confidence after Argentina and Jordan weren't so good for me, and I believe I can take that pace to Greece," added Latvala.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive a third team Focus RS on a rally that the 36-year-old driver finished in 2004 and 2006. "A lot has changed since then but it’s still a very rough rally," he said. "Some places are similar to Jordan, others to Sardinia, but some are distinctive only to the Acropolis. Although there are several new stages, Michael has a lot of experience here. Together we had a long consultation with my engineers after Sardinia and I hope we see the results in Greece.

“Without testing things are always difficult and I’m going to have to keep improving my technique and adapting my style as I go along. I’ll start at a comfortable pace and see how the car is reacting. If things are going well, I’ll increase my pace," he added.

Team News
* As part of the sport's new regulations, BP Ford Abu Dhabi will have just one tyre pattern from Pirelli. The Scorpion gravel tyre will be available in hard compound only. Because anti-deflation mousse is also outlawed this year, the Scorpion includes reinforced sidewalls to offer increased protection against punctures
Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber and each car can carry two spares.

* Five other Focus RS cars will start the rally. Gigi Galli / Giovanni Bernacchini and Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud are nominated for points by the Stobart VK M-Sport team while Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin will drive a third car. Munchi's Ford World Rally Team has nominated Federico Villagra / Jorge Pérez Companc and Greeks Aris Vovos / 'El-Em' to score.

* Hirvonen will conduct a two-day asphalt test in Scotland on 5 - 6 June.

* Lehtinen attended Wednesday's night's UEFA Champions League soccer final between Manchester United and Chelsea in Moscow as a guest of Ford of Europe. Ford is a major partner of the Champions League and used the half-time break to premiere its 60-second TV advertisement for the all-new Kuga vehicle.

Greece is the word for Stobart crews

Posted: May 23, 2008 10:54 AM

Next week the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team take on the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally of Greece. The seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship will see Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud return to the squad as a nominated points scoring crew.

Joining the pair as the second nominated points scorers will be Italians Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini fresh from their fourth place finish in Sardinia last week. Brits Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin round off the terrific trio of Stobart crews as they embark on one of the most demanding and toughest rounds in the championship.

The team’s goal for the event is to again close the gap to Subaru in the Manufacturers’ Championship as they lurk just eight points behind the third placed Japanese outfit. Galli has also closed the gap to just four points on fifth place in the Drivers’ Championship and will be looking for another strong points haul for his championship campaign.

For all three Stobart crews Greece has been a prosperous outing in the past. Competing in both 2006 and 2007, Wilson posted a strong top-ten result on both occasions and he now looks to move one step further and finish with drivers’ points under his belt in 2008.

For the past two years Solberg has managed some fine results finishing fifth in both years, most recently in a Stobart entered Ford Focus RS WRC in 2007. The Norwegian has set a top-five target again this year.

This will be Galli’s third attempt at the Greek event which is also a place he has scored well finishing seventh back in 2005 when he last competed here. Coming off his fine result from Sardinia he will be looking to continue with his electric gravel form displayed on the last two events.

This year the event has moved north of the country’s capital Athens, to the Tatoi military airport grounds. The majority of the 20 special stages will be similar to last year’s route which offered high levels of access to the large spectator numbers that flock to the event. The only all-new special stages for 2008 are Psatha (stages 3 and 6) which was last seen run in 2006 and the brand new 4.6 kilometre Tatoi super special stage adjacent to the Service Park.

Certainly one of the hottest tests all year Greece is renowned for its tremendously rough and rocky conditions which have claimed the result of many in the past. Humid air temperatures run well into the high 30’s causing oven-like temperatures in the cockpit of these world rally cars. The Acropolis event is set to be the toughest test yet for the Pirelli Scorpion tyre which has so far stood up to every blow this season.

This year’s ceremonial start sees a return to the ancient monument site of the Acropolis which was formally proclaimed as the pre-eminent monument on the European Cultural Heritage list. After this send-off, crews will gear-up for a Friday morning start and the first of 339.94 competitive kilometres of Greek gravel action.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
“I am looking forward to the Greece Rally as we found a good level of consistency in Sardinia and hopefully it will be possible to keep this going. Although I haven’t competed in this event for a few years, we did the recce for the last two years and so have a good understanding of the stages and the rocky conditions. Even so it is still sure to be a tough event, the stages are rough and demanding and I expect the temperatures to be hotter than in Sardinia. It’s definitely going to be a hard test for the car, crew and the Pirelli tyres, but I’m confident we are all up to the challenge.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“I like the rough conditions on this rally and generally enjoy the event; it is very challenging. We didn’t have a good event in Sardinia and we plan to improve on that pace. The good thing about the next two rallies is that they are close together. Because we don’t get testing it takes a while for me to settle into a good rhythm at the start of a rally but with events close together it means we can be faster right from the start. So my confidence is better for this rally and I am aiming for a top-five finish. That would be good and would give me some more important points for the championship.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“Sardinia wasn’t the greatest event for us so in Greece we will look to improve and get back to the pace we had on previous gravel rallies this year. The route it is not much different to last year which is going to be good for us. Greece is a hot rally where our training will be a big benefit especially on some of the longer stages. Hopefully the weather will stay warm and dry so we can get a good consistent feeling with the tyres. Sardinia was hard to get a good feeling with the changing conditions but fortunately we never incurred any punctures. I’m looking forward to rolling over the start ramp at the Acropolis – it is going to be quite some sight.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“The Stobart team have put in some fantastic drives over the last couple of events to close the gap to Subaru in the manufacturers’ championship and I think in Greece the plan is basically to try and do the same. All our drivers finished in Sardinia without any problems and I think this was important as it will give them good confidence for the event next week. Gigi has found a strong, consistent pace now and I’m excited to see if this can translate into another fine result on this tough event. This rally, as always, will demand a lot from the drivers and cars and I’m confident that we are all up to the job.”

Munchi’s arrange Acropolis attack with home advantage

Posted: May 23, 2008 10:51 AM

The seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship sees the Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team head to Greece for the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally. The event HQ this year has moved further to the north and in closer proximity to the Greek capital of Athens, allowing an exciting Ceremonial start at the stunning Acropolis on Thursday evening.

As with all 10 rounds of this year’s Munchi’s WRC campaign, Federico Villagra/Jorge Pérez Companc will contest the round as the team’s number one crew. Joining them as the fourth consecutively new crew are local rally legends Aris Vovos/Loris Meletopoulos.

The event is set to be another strong outing for the Munchi’s squad who will look to extend the gap over Suzuki in the Manufacturers’ Championship which currently lies at an impressive nine points. Villagra too will be looking to add points to his personal tally in the Drivers’ Championship which currently sees him with eight points and in ninth position outright.

For Villagra this will be only his second attempt at the Greek event but with some fine performances on gravel already this season he will be raring to go next Friday morning. Last year the Argentine looked promising in just his second event in a world rally car, until a clutch issue on day 2 forced him to SupeRally, losing a chunk of valuable time.

Since 1993 Vovos has competed on the Acropolis event 13 times - under WRC status - making him somewhat of a legend of the rally. His best result here came in 2004 driving a Ford Focus RS WRC. This year he will be reunited with the Focus RS in the latest specification with technical support from the world class M-Sport outfit. This will be his first WRC event in the 2008 championship.

This year most of the rally route has remained the same which last year offered well maintained roads that were easily accessible to the large number of spectators. Rally HQ however has moved to the north of Athens and this year will be based at the Tatoi military airport, some 25 kilometres from the Acropolis.

High humidity and temperatures are what really characterise this tricky event along with the rough and rocky stages which certainly make this a major rally of attrition. The forecast again suggests temperatures into the 30 degree plus centigrade bracket which will make fitness and concentration key factors of success here.

Like last year, the monster Aghii Theodori test will be among the 20 stages which make up the 339.94 kilometres of competitive distance. This year however the monster stage has be cut shorter by 16 kilometres but will still throw out a challenge to Pirelli and its new Scorpion gravel tyre which has proven its strength over all four gravel events so far this year.

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Federico Villagra said:
“We had a good rally in Greece last year and it’s an event that I like quite a lot. For sure the rally will be hard work, it will be hot and sunny and the stages take a lot of energy from the driver; last year there was a very long stage in which many people had problems. The event usually throws up some surprises. But I think it will benefit us to be doing another rally quite close after the last one as the feeling of the car is still in my head and our confidence is good after Sardinia. The focus is still on finishing the rally without any problems and if we can do that it will be a good opportunity to collect more points for both me and the Munchi’s team. I will be able to get some tips from my team mate for this rally who is a local driver and will know the conditions well.”

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Aris Vovos said:
“The Acropolis rally has always been the most important event of our annual program. Therefore I have to admit that I am a little excited, especially this year that we will be using a top line car and we have no excuse on not performing well in front of our fans. Ten days ago we had a test in Sardinia in order to familiarise ourselves with the Focus WRC07 and in order to set it up according to our needs. At the beginning of the test I found the car far away from my driving style, but thanks to Roman Kresta's assistance we have managed to come to a very good result. I am now looking forward to driving the car in the stages that we know well. I believe that the Pirelli tyres are very strong this year, but they will be the key factor in this year's event."

Event Website

Posted: January 28, 2008 10:41 PM

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