EKO Acropolis Rally Greece, an event with an historic reputation as one of the toughest in the FIA World Rally Championship, returns to the series this week (Sept. 9-12) for the first time since 2013.
Punishing rocky tracks in the mountains north of Athens and blistering mid-summer temperatures established the “Rally of Gods” as a WRC classic after it first appeared in the championship’s inaugural season in 1973.
The gravel roads are expected to 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 moves into the final third of the season.
Frenchman Sebastien Ogier carries a 38-point lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Elfyn Evans of Wales, who is tied with Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville, winner last time out on home roads in Belgium.
Seven-time and reigning WRC champ Ogier has dueled with the Acropolis on four occasions, and came out on top in 2011, but is treating its return like an entirely new rally.
“The Acropolis Rally is one of these events which made the history of the WRC and we’ve missed it now for a few years,” said the 37-year old. “Of course, we can have some idea of what to expect from the past, but it will be a new event in the sense that I think everybody will have to write new pace notes. It’s always nice when everybody starts from the same level like that.”
Ogier and Evans are joined in Toyota Yaris World Rally Cars by Finland’s Kalle Rovanpera, the trio with their sights also set on defending the Japanese squad’s 41-point lead in the manufacturers’ standings.
Neuville, who is joined in Hyundai i20 World Rally Cars by Estonia’s Ott Tänak and Spain’s Dani Sordo, is under no illusions as to what faces him.
“The stages have some very twisty profiles with a lot of loose stones and hot temperatures,” said the 33-year-old Belgian. “It will be very challenging because not only do you need to go flat out, but you also need to manage the car and the tires. Strategy will be very important, but that’s something we like.”
M-Sport Ford has traditionally been strong on the roughest rallies The British-based 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.
The top-level entries are completed by Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet in a Hyundai 2C Competition-run i20.
In WRC2, the second-highest tier of international rallying, American’s Sean Johnston and co-driver Alex Kihurani are back in action after missing Belgium in order to fully recover from a huge crash during July’s Rally Estonia. The duo’s Sainteloc Junior Team Citroen C3 Rally 2 rolled multiple times in a high-speed off on one of the fastest events on the WRC calendar, but car and crew are ready for the challenge of Greece.
Skoda Fabia Evo driver Andreas Mikkelsen leads the WRC2 standings, just 11 points clear of fellow Norwegian Mads Ostberg in a Citroen C3. Other leading entries include Hyundai rising star Oliver Solberg, whose father Petter won the Acropolis for Subaru in 2004, Skoda-equipped Marco Bulacia, and M-Sport Ford pair Teemu Suninen and Martin Prokop.
Rain left a coating of thick mud on the tracks as recce got under way earlier in the week. With better forecasts for the rally itself and temperatures climbing, it remains to be seen how quickly the roads will dry.
After Thursday afternoon’s start beneath Athens’ Acropolis citadel, a quickfire asphalt blast in front of the capital’s stunning Parliament building opens the action. Three more days of competition around Loutraki and Lamia follow, before Sunday afternoon’s finish after 15 stages covering 181.5 miles.
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