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GP Week : Issue 50
>>WRCGREECE T HEY threw the script away. Sebastien Loeb was never expected to crash; Dani Sordo, who had a heaven sent opportunity to push rally leader Mikko Hirvonen for a debut win, was delayed with wrecked suspension; Jari-Matti Latvala, whose late running order gave him the chance of building up an unmatchable lead, threw his chances away when he slid off the road. And it all left Hirvonen with his first win of the season. Largely through the misfortunes of others, Latvala climbed back to third place to gave BP Ford a maximum point results for the second rally running. The five championship points eventually scored by Citroen’s second driver were like gold dust, and they showed a new and impressive aptitude for playing tactics. The unusually high stage distance on the opening day of Rally Acropolis, run on virgin, uncleaned roads, presented Latvala with an amazingly favourable opportunity, only partially reduced when one of the five first-time stages was cancelled and four virgin stages remained. Strangely enough it was on the final stage of the day, the only repeated stage, that Latvala made a mistake that cost him his chances, and he dropped down to 11th. This was a disgrace of unmentionable proportions for his bosses at Ford, but gradually things turned around. When Latvala fell back the leader was going to be Sordo, but Citroen made a lightning decision to hold him back, to force Hirvonen to drive the Day 2 stages first on the road. The second day’s rallying was run on stages never used before by the drivers, highlighting the need to trust notes about roads they had never driven at speed before. Hirvonen was unfazed and held his nerve. Sebastien Loeb, who had escaped the first day disadvantage by holding third place, had the chance to reclaim his 21-second deficit, but crashed heavily. Two stages later, his team-mate Sordo and Henning Solberg damaged their suspension and blocked the route, causing an organisation crisis and letting Petter Solberg up to second place – and Latvala up to fifth. On the second afternoon, P Solberg’s luck ran out. The front suspension collapsed and he lost a lot of time, moving Ogier up to second and Latvala back to third, second highest manufacturers’ points scorer. When all the dust had settled, there was another remarkable story emerging; the performance of the 18 year old Russian Evgeniy Novikov. The day before the start, Novikov had set the fastest time on the Shakedown test, and then on the third stage to be run on the event he scored fastest time overall, the first time an 18-year- old had ever done that, breaking Matthew Wilson’s three-year old record. After SS4, Novikov had been lying fourth overall, but then he had a double puncture and had to drive the rest of the first day slowly, having no other spare wheel. He was back in fourth place at the end of the second day. In fact, the Junior Citroen drivers were sublime, lying second, fourth and fifth at the start of the final morning, heading the remaining Citroen Total entry of Dani Sordo. All the while, Hirvonen cruised through to victory, and BP Ford was delighted with its 1-2 points score. That left Citroen in damage limitation mode, by design or by accident. Novikov had a driveshaft failure on SS15, then on the last stage to be run, SS17, he stopped for seven minutes, reportedly with an engine problem, which dropped him not only behind Sordo, but also the two Stobart entries as well. Citroen therefore scored four points from the event, and their lead over BP Ford Abu Dhabi has been reduced to 15 points, less than one rally’s worth, while Mikko Hirvonen is now only seven points behind Sebastien Loeb in the drivers’ series. In two weeks there will be even more new stages to come, this time in Poland. 41