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GP Week : Issue 155
37 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Until a few hours from the finish it looked like being the most fantastic battle the Acropolis Rally had ever seen. Firstly Jari-Matti Latvala, back in action despite his recent injury, pushed Sebastien Loeb until the Champion could go no faster, but then the Ford driver had a puncture on Stage 14, dropped back, and pretty much destroyed his title chances. But instead of the manufacturers' title battle being deflated, Latvala's teammate Petter Solberg took up the challenge until he crashed on the final morning when only 10 seconds behind. Finally it was situation normal. Sebastien Loeb strolled away to win ahead of a rather lacklustre Citroen teammate Mikko Hirvonen. Latvala drove to the finish in a lonely third place. Once again the Ford challenge had flattered only to deceive. Their cars, duly strengthened in time for what traditionally is the roughest WRC event of the season, were impressively fast. Latvala was in splendid form despite his recent injury, but that puncture in sporting terms was Greek tragedy in real time. Fears that Latvala's collarbone injury might hamper him were soon dispelled. Fastest times on the first three stages ahead of championship leader Sebastien Loeb was the tonic that Ford, and the sport, wanted. And even when Latvala lost a few seconds on a unexpectedly slippery bend in Stage 4 he stayed in touch with Loeb. At the end of the first full day, Latvala was only 6.5 seconds behind Loeb, and on the very rough Day 2 stages in the Peloponnese the Ford really hounded the Citroen. After Stage 12, over half distance, Latvala was just 1.0 second behind. On a rally traditionally won and lost in tens of minutes, this was sensational. The two rally greats were head to head, each flat out notwithstanding the horrors of the ground over which they were driving. On the first stage of the Saturday afternoon it all went wrong. Latvala: "I slightly brushed the bank beside the track and this slowly let out the air in a tyre. I thought I could drive on but suddenly the wheel broke. We had to stop and change the wheel in the stage." Over three minutes were lost, Latvala was down to fourth place. And more bad news was to come for Latvala. When the wheel broke, so did a brake caliper, and when the long promised rains finally descended on the mountains it turned the tracks into quagmires. Three-wheel- braking stopped Latvala even thinking of trying to catch up. The final act of tragedy then came on Day 3. Petter Solberg was still in the race, lying just 10.2 seconds behind Loeb, but in the first stage of the day he crashed and broke the suspension and had to stop. The top four cars had been far ahead of the opposition. The accolade of the best non-works drivers was originally held by Evgeniy Novikov's Fiesta before he had overheating trouble and then by Mads Ostberg, still driving his ancient, old specification, Fiesta. Even Ostberg had an moment of anguish when he slid off the road losing three minutes on Stage 9, dropped to eighth, but six stages later he had returned to fifth place, rising to fourth when Petter Solberg retired. Of the two official Minis, Paulo Nobre had troubles with suspension damage and Armindo Araujo, who had to change cars before the rally after a test crash, spent most of the event trying to set-up the car for the conditions. Ahead of Araujo was a private Mini WRC, that of the Qatari driver Abdulaziz Al Kuwsari, driving a Mini S2000 converted out of SWRC specification for the event, which finished two places behind the Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi with his usual 1.6 turbo S2000 Fiesta. This was the best result to date for a 1.6 2000 car in the WRC, run by the private Belgian MY Racing team, the team which was originally founded by the Citroen motorsport director Yves Matton. Small world! Loeb is now 30 points ahead of his Citroen teammate Mikko Hirvonen, and then comes a shock – third in the championship standings is the top Ford driver Mads Ostberg, ahead of the official drivers. And what about the Makes series? Citroen Total are 73 points in front of Ford, but what about Ostberg's Adapter team? They were not certain to enter the Acropolis Rally at the time registration had to be made, so they ran the Acropolis as completely non-aligned privateers as they had done when they won in Portugal! RALLY >>> GREECE Once Jari-Matti, far right at start, was gone, Petter Solberg took up the chase and got close ...