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GP Week : Issue 120
WRC PREVIEW >> Back again in the world championship after a one-year break is the Acropolis Rally of Greece, one of the original classic events in the WRC. It has been slotted back into the FIA’s calendar at a most significant moment, exactly in time to be the 500th event for the championship with the WRC series starting in 1973, and Greece’s round has only twice been missing. The fuel crisis stopped the rally in 1974 and an FIA event rotation plan meant the 2010 event did not hold world status. Only the rallies in Finland and Great Britain have counted for the world championship more often than Greece. This year there is a major organisational change. The event is again being run by ELPA, the national sporting federation and the national automotive touring company, but is being promoted by a new company called Celeritas (meaning “Speed”) founded by Greek businessman Aris Vovos, who in his alter ego is one of the country’s most successful rally drivers. Much of the organisation of this year’s event has been in the hands of his partner Pavlos Athanassoulas. There are also some important changes in the itinerary this year. (a) Pursuing the FIA’s current policies, there will be a nighttime stage and (b) there will be a different location for the remote service during the first day - this will be at Kamena Vourla, instead of Itea. But it is the nighttime stage on the Saturday evening that causes anxiety among the crews. The last time the Acropolis Rally incorporated stages in the dark was in 1985, and the demise of this feature was originally on account of safety as well as the unfair advantage to the front running competitors because of dust. In the old days all the cars ran at one-minute intervals. These days the top drivers run at two or even three minutes intervals, and for this year ’s event all the drivers will tackle the night stage at three minutes gaps. Although half-light or night time gravel stages have been run in recent years in Britain and in Japan, but these have been in wet or damp conditions. Some rain is forecast for earlier in rally week, but at rally time it is expected to be dry. Kamena Vourla is familiar territory for the Acropolis Rally. I t was the overnight halt location on the Acropolis in the period 1994-1997. The event is again based at Loutraki, the popular coastal spa town some 90km west of Athens, with a ceremonial start in the capital town beneath the city ’s historic Par thenon site. Day 1 of the route again encompasses stages in central Greece, the second day with stages in the Peleponnese and the shorter third day has stages in the hills behind Loutraki itself. All the stages are hard packed gravel which in dry conditions become clean and are expected to be very dusty. As in Argentina, the Power Stage is short - just 4km, and this time will use a road which will have already been run previously as part of three different special stages, including the night stage. There are several new ideas in the event promotion, notably the inauguration of a slogan - Rally of the Gods. There is also a new Hall of Fame concept, in which the first international inductee is the late Colin McRae, in memory of his record five victories on this event. Endorsing McRae’s achievement is the fact that more different drivers have won the world championship Acropolis Rally than any other WRC event. The total number of entries is low - only 42 cars - but the strength of competition is high. This time there are 18 World Rally Cars: for the first time six DS3s, ten Fiestas (each team running two official team cars) and two customer Minis. Of the Fords, still only the two Abu Dhabi entries will run with the new cylinder heads. Among the customer World Rally Car entries are two Dutch father-and-son entries, for the first time father Rene Kuipers is paired against son Dennis in Fiesta WRCs, and once again Peter van Merksteijn senior and junior each have a Citroen DS3 WRC. Denis Kuipers has a brand new Fiesta for this event, Dad meanwhile has his son’s old car Previously when driving the previous- generation Ford Focus WRC cars, all four have competed the same event in identical cars. Evgeniy Novikov has a new co-driver, Denis Giraudet, who is set to compete with two Russian drivers within a month. The second will be Vladimir Antonov, the new Global Promoter of the WRC, on the Midnight Sun revival rally in Sweden for historic cars. In the Drivers’ series, the route confusion in Argentina cost Hirvonen the chance to sneak a one -point lead in the series, Mikko therefore starts Greece 13 points behind Sebastien Loeb. In the manufacturers series Citroen Total leads Ford Abu Dhabi by 33 points, while Petter Solberg’s team is the best of the “single-entry” teams.