26 May 08
After the last round in Italy the FIA World Rally Championship remains in the Mediterranean region for round seven of the series - the Acropolis Rally of Greece - which runs between 30 May and 1 June.
First run in 1951, the Acropolis is regarded as the toughest challenge in the current WRC calendar and is renowned for its rocky mountain tracks, searing heat and physically demanding cockpit conditions. Cars and crews alike are put to a punishing test and this year's menu of 20 stages totalling 339km should once again ensure that the event lives up to its reputation.
The Acropolis is known as a car breaker. And for a vehicle to win it - or even get to the finish - it needs to be tough enough to withstand the constant battering of loose rocks which litter the stages, as well as the hard bedrock which forms the base of the roads. Cooling is crucial too. And with air temperatures often exceeding 30║C, high demands are placed on engines and gearboxes. Usually, these components are kept cool with a series of radiators, but because the winding roads and hairpins make this a relatively slow rally (only Argentina was slower in 2007), there is little cooling to be had from the through-flow of air.
Drivers can expect a tough time for the same reasons. Air conditioning is not a standard feature on a rally car, and most have to make do with just a roof mounted fresh air scoop. As a result cockpit temperatures are high and fitness plays a crucial role. A regular fluid intake is also vital to stave off dehydration and ensure drivers and co-drivers operate at peak performance.
The rally route itself is broadly similar to 2007. The opening leg heads north and west of Athens, and contains the only all-new test of the rally - Psatha (SS3/6) - which was last used in 2006. The second day is the longest of the event and takes competitors west of the city, passing close to the Corinth Canal. The final day is again north-west of the city before the finish ceremony at Tatoi. Drivers tackle 20 tests covering 339.94km in a total route of 1311.32km.
For the third consecutive year, the rally has a new base. After using the Olympic Games equestrian facilities in 2007, the Tatoi military airport, 20km north of central Athens, will host the entire rally's facilities this time around, including the service park, parc ferme, HQ and a brand new Superspecial.
The rally also counts as round three of the 2008 Production Car World Rally Championship (P-WRC), and 29 competitors will be back in action after the last round in Argentina. Click here to read our P-WRC preview: Acropolis P-WRC preview
Who’s going to win?
In recent years the Ford team has excelled in Greece. In 2007 Marcus Gronholm secured his second consecutive Acropolis victory - Ford’s sixth in eight years. This year Ford heads the manufacturers' battle by seven points and Mikko Hirvonen tops the drivers' table by three - so the odds are looking pretty good for the blue oval.
Driver motivation at Ford is high too. Ford team leader Hirvonen finished third in Greece in 2006 and 2007 but says he needs to win this year to keep his championship dream alive - not to mention his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala behind him. Expect both Finns to be quick out of the blocks on Friday.
Apart from Latvala Hirvonen’s strongest opposition is likely to be the Citroen of defending champion Sebastien Loeb. The Frenchman last won the Greek round in 2005 but the rough conditions mean it’s not one of his favourites. But with the championship so finely balanced, and straight after a win in Sardinia, Loeb is keen to notch up WRC victory number 41.
This year’s rally will be especially significant for the Subaru team which launches its brand new Impreza - the WRC 2008. Team drivers Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson are hoping the new car will enable them to challenge for rally wins again after a three year drought. Petter last won the Acropolis with Subaru in 2004 and scored his most recent podium there in 2007. Will the new car enable him or Atkinson to take victory this year? We’ll find out next week.
For more details on the start list of the Acropolis Rally click here: Start list and nominations
The first stage gets underway on Friday 30 May at 0815hrs. As usual you’ll find live stage times and all the news from Greece here at wrc.com.