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GP Week : Issue 13
Sebastien Loeb edges one point ahead of Mikko Hirvonen in the Drivers’ championship while Ford remains slightly ahead of Citroen in the Makes’. Day 1 Ford came to Greece confident, being winners in the past two years, and with one special driver in particular. Five years ago on this event an 18 year old boy from Finland, Jari- Matti Latvala, made his World Rally car debut at the wheel of a works Ford. This year he shot into the lead for half of the first day before a puncture on Stage Four dropped him to third. Citroen drivers Loeb and Sordo were now ahead of him and seemingly planning to steamroller the rest of the rally. As the first day came towards its end, Latvala had risen to second but he and his teammates Mikko Hirvonen and Khalid Al Qassimi met a most unpleasant rock very near the end of Stage Six. Damage from the impacts caused very little time loss on the stage, but they still had to tackle a very tortuous and long superspecial before the day ended. Because the drivers had to go carefully, Ford’s hopes were dashed. At the end of the day, Latvala was back in sixth and Hirvonen seventh. Up in third place was Petter Solberg in the new Subaru, with his brother Henning fourth in the Stobart team Focus. Day 2 Both Hirvonen and Latvala were on a charge. On the first stage of the day Latvala jumped to fourth and was just 1.5 seconds behind Solberg’s Subaru. In the afternoon the cars tackled the same loop as the morning and disaster stuck Latvala again. “Right on the start line of Stage 11 the turbo pressure failed, and we had to tackle the longest and toughest loop of the whole rally at quarter speed.” Loeb punctured and Sordo slipped ahead. Hirvonen fared better, making fastest time on three of the six stages of the day but then he had a broken suspension link after hitting an earth bank. He finished the day in fourth place behind Loeb and the two Solberg brothers. Sordo had held the lead for a splendid three stages before puncturing and dropping behind Loeb again. Then on the final stage of the day Sordo punctured again and was only able to reach service having opted to drive the stage on a tyre-less rim. Day 3 The pressure was off on the final day, Loeb cruising unchallenged through the dusty stages. Petter Solberg was ordered to let the Citroen walk away with the event – a safe second place was already better than any Subaru officials had expected. Petter’s teammate Chris Atkinson, meanwhile, had his eye on another goal –, the Colin McRae trophy. Colin gained five overall victories on this event which makes him the most successful driver in the 55 year history of the Acropolis rally. For this rally, the organisers implemented a special award in his memory, the Award going to the driver winning a stage at the highest speed. The fastest stage location of the event was 14/17. Atkinson had dropped out on the second day with an electrical fault but was back with a vengeance. His reputation for fearless driving on high speed stages served him well, and he was over six seconds faster on stage 14, claiming the trophy. Then on the next stage the Australian retired again, spinning into a rock which wrecked the rear suspension … Second time through this stage Latvala took five seconds off Atkinson’s earlier time, but finally Gigi Galli, another driver who emerged from earlier retirement, beat them all. But then he also went off the road one stage later and wrecked his suspension! It had been a terrible time for the BP Ford cars but gradually some unexpected points were coming the way of the team and their drivers as Henning Solberg had a torrid final morning. Twice the engine cut out on Stage 16 and his tenure on third place was threatened, with Hirvonen now only 22.6 seconds behind. The problem could not be identified at service and on Stage 17 he lost five more minutes, so then he was seventh, only 44 seconds in front of Latvala. And it got worse until finally Henning had fallen to eighth. “Such a shame, but that is rallying,” said Henning. “The worst part was that I really wanted to stand on the podium side-by-side with my brother, who had such a fantastic event in his Subaru, but we’ll have to wait for that for another occasion!” It had been a year since Petter last had a podium finish. Turkey is next – in two weeks’ time. WRC ACROPOLIS >> 25