The EKO Acropolis Rally Greece, an event with a historic reputation as one of the toughest in the FIA World Rally Championship, returns to the series this week (September 9-12) for the first time since 2013.
Punitive rocky tracks in the mountains north of Athens and scorching midsummer temperatures made the “Rally of Gods” a WRC classic after its first appearance in the championship’s inaugural season in 1973.
Gravel roads should be smoother and early September means the thermometer will be lower than its traditional June date, but the Acropolis still demands respect as the battle for WRC titles enters the final third of the season.
Frenchman Sébastien Ogier is 38 points ahead of his Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Elfyn Evans of Wales, who is tied with Thierry Neuville of Hyundai Motorsport, who last won at home in Belgium.
Ogier, the seven-time defending WRC champion, has faced the Acropolis four times and won in 2011, but sees his comeback as a whole new rally.
“The Acropolis Rally is one of those events that marked the history of the WRC and we have missed it for a few years,” said the 37-year-old driver. “Sure, we can get a feel for what to expect from the past, but it’s going to be a new event in the sense that I think everyone will have to write new rhythm notes. It’s always nice when everything goes. the world starts from the same level like that.
Ogier and Evans are joined in the Toyota Yaris World Rally Cars by Finland’s Kalle Rovanpera, with the trio also aiming to defend the Japanese team’s 41-point lead in the constructors’ standings.
Neuville, who is joined in Hyundai i20 World Rally Cars by Estonian Ott Tänak and Spaniard Dani Sordo, has no illusions about what awaits him.
“The stages have very sinuous profiles with a lot of stones and hot temperatures,” said the 33-year-old Belgian. “It will be very difficult because not only do you have to go all the way, but you also have to manage the car and the tires. Strategy will be very important, but it’s something that we love.
M-Sport Ford has always been strong on the toughest rallies The British team won the Acropolis seven times in 10 years between 2000 and ’09. Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith drive Fiesta World Rally Cars and are joined in Greece by local ace Joudan Serderidis.
High level registrations are completed by Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet on a Hyundai 2C Competition i20.
In WRC2, the second highest level of international rallying, American Sean Johnston and his co-driver Alex Kihurani are back after missing Belgium in order to fully recover from a huge crash at Rally Estonia in July. The Sainteloc Junior Team Citroën C3 Rally 2 duo have raced at high speed several times in one of the fastest events on the WRC calendar, but the car and the crew are ready for the challenge of Greece.
Skoda Fabia Evo driver Andreas Mikkelsen leads the WRC2 standings, just 11 points ahead of fellow Norwegian Mads Ostberg driving a Citroën C3. Other main competitors include rising Hyundai star Oliver Solberg, whose father Petter won the Acropolis for Subaru in 2004, Marco Bulacia, equipped with Skoda, and couple M-Sport Ford, Teemu Suninen and Martin. Prokop.
The rain left a thick layer of mud on the tracks as the reconnaissance began earlier in the week. With better forecasts for the rally itself and rising temperatures, it remains to be seen how quickly the roads will dry out.
After Thursday afternoon’s start under the Citadel of the Acropolis of Athens, a rapid-fire asphalt explosion in front of the capital’s magnificent Parliament building opens the action. Three more days of competition follow around Loutraki and Lamia, before the finish on Sunday afternoon after 15 stages covering 181.5 miles.
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