Acropolis : Citroen Sport - Preview
Just before the calendar's two-month summer recess, the World Rally Championship moves on to Greece for the 54th Acropolis Rally for which CitroŽn Sport has entered two CitroŽn C4 WRCs for Sebastien Loeb
/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/ Marc
Last year saw the organisers of the Greek classic switch their event's base to Athens and they have again set up camp in the country's capital this time round, although this season it has moved from the Olympic Stadium to the Equestrian Centre that was also built for the 2004 Games. The rally's other notable feature concerns the route which includes some 100km of stages that will be new to competitors. The first and third legs will take crews north-west of Athens, while the second day Ė the longest of the weekend Ė heads out to Loutraki where a remote service park has been programmed. Saturday's action also includes two attempts at the marathon Agii Theodori stage (SS10/14, 48.88km) which, true to the Greek round's reputation, promises to be an awesome test of man and machine.
Indeed, the Acropolis Rally's stages are unique in the World Championship, as CitroŽn Sport's Technical Manager Xavier Mestelan-Pinon explains: "This event is a very special challenge.
Sardinia served as a sort of foretaste but this will essentially be the C4's maiden outing in these conditions which combine high temperatures and extremely rough, hard-packed stages where the suspension has to soak up the countless rocks that litter the surface. Reliability will play a key role and the regulations further spice up the weekend's prospects: following his retirement in Sardinia, Seb's C4 will benefit from a new chassis and engine, but Dani's engine will be starting its third event, and his chassis its second rally. Given the state of the stages, this dials in a further unknown, as well as extra pressure which we will need to overcome."
The Acropolis has rarely been successful for CitroŽn which has only won once in Greece from five starts. "Perhaps this year's visit will enable us to improve on that statistic," suggests Guy Frťquelin. "In recent years, we have no doubt been less well prepared for this type of terrain than for the others. I hope the CitroŽn C4 WRC will enable us to reverse the trend. Luck can also play a big role in Greece, so let's hope it will be on our side this time."
"You do need a little luck to win the Acropolis Rally," echoes Sebastien Loeb
. "The stages are varied and often interesting, but the down side is that they can be so rough in places that the event becomes something of a lottery. It's especially complex if you try to push hard, especially for the tyres." Loeb's co-driver Daniel Elena pounces on that last comment to underline what he believes to be the best tactic for the weekend's longest stage: "If you're going to have a puncture, make sure it's as near as possible to the finishÖ"
Dani Sordo plans to approach the final event before the break with caution: "Competing in hot weather is never easy, but everything suffers in Greece, from the crews and cars to the tyres. To avoid breaking everything, it's important to find the right pace. There are also lots of new stages this year. That should be good for me, but I have no intention of allowing that to go to my head!"
Guy Frequelin's objective for the Acropolis Rally is simply to try and win! "Given our positions in both championships," he observes, "we cannot target anything less. Our disappointment in Sardinia demonstrated that even the best of them are not immune from trouble, and our rivals are just as prone to this sort of misadventure. It will be up to us to tackle the Acropolis in such a way that we don't compromise our title chances before going into the second half of the season."