Seven-time and reigning World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier earned fastest time on a short, sharp, all-asphalt prologue in downtown Athens. But the Frenchman knows the real battle will be waged when the Acropolis Rally heads into three days of rough gravel, and possibly unseasonal mud, for Greece’s first WRC round since 2013.
The Frenchman’s 51.5sec blast around the 0.61-mile course, including two mandatory donuts to rev up a massive crowd in the Greek capital, edged Welshman Elfyn Evans’ 52.1sec effort, with Finland’s Kalle Rovanpera (52.3sec) completing a Toyota Yaris WRC 1-2-3.
Hyundai’s three-car factory roster filled fourth to sixth, Rally Belgium winner Thierry Neuville leading the way ahead of late call-up Dani Sordo and Ott Tanak.
“I love Greece, it’s a beautiful country,” said the 2011 Acropolis winner, “but we know we’ve got a tough job running first on the road on gravel. Of course, we’ll try hard for a good result because this is a rally I really like.”
Leading the WRC2 pack, Andreas Mikkelsen’s Skoda Fabia and Mads Ostberg’s Citroen C3 posted identical times, just 1.3sec off the ultimate pace. American WRC2 contender Sean Johnston was 18th overall in his Citroen C3, the Californian and co-driver Alex Kihurani playing it steady on their return to action following a huge crash on Rally Estonia in July.
“Fortunately, everything has healed quite quickly and well, the only exception being my right wrist,” said Johnston. “That’s the wrist that flew up and hit the roll cage on the first super-fast roll. I’m trying to get that back to 100 percent, but I’m feeling like it’s good enough to hop back in the car and I can’t wait to get back out there.”
The 2021 Acropolis Rally has moved from its traditional June date, and heavy rain in the buildup has left it looking decidedly different to previous events. The rough gravel remains, but the thick dust has been turned into mud on many stages. Thursday morning’s 4.24-mile shakedown stage was mud covered, and while some drying of the stages is expected, crews are rolling the dice on tire choices for Friday’s loop.
“We have seen a lot of different conditions during the recce, and the shakedown was very muddy,” said Neuville, who has chosen four hard and two soft tires from the WRC’s exclusive supplier, Pirelli. “It’s a long event. It’s going to be rough, so we need to keep it clean and tidy; no punctures.”
Top 10 after Special Stage 1:
1 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) 51.5sec
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) +0.6sec
3 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) +0.8sec
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +0.9sec
5 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1sec
6 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1sec
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +1.3sec
8 Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3 Rally2) +1.3sec
9 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +1.5sec
10 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +1.5sec
Check out WRC.com, the official home of the FIA World Rally Championship. And for the ultimate WRC experience, sign up for a WRC+ subscription to watch all stages of every rally live and on demand, whenever and wherever.