Acropolis : Stobart M-Sport Ford - Preview
Next week the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team head to Greece for the Acropolis Rally, round eight of the WRC. The team currently lies third in the Manufacturers' Championship heading into the 54th running of this historical event.
Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila surprised everyone during Rally d'Italia Sardegna by leading the event at the midway point of leg 1, a career-first for the Finnish pair and the Stobart team. Unfortunately broken suspension ruined Latvala's hope of a maiden WRC podium but, with the form he showed, heads may turn again come next weekend.
After a successful outing in Sardinia last week, Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud have moved up to equal fifth in the drivers' standings just eight points off fourth position. Team-mates Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr also improved on their speed only to be denied a fantastic result by mechanical issues and broken suspension on their Ford Focus RS WRC06 which forced the pair to retire from leg 2.
The Rally is an event renowned for taking its toll not only on cars, but competitors as well. A combination of fast and twisty, mountainous stages and a boulder-filled, rough, gravel surface challenges durability of vehicles which are developed extra-sturdy for this testing event.
Temperatures in the past have risen as high as 50 degrees Celsius creating a demanding effect on competitor fitness as well as the cooling systems of World Rally Cars though the slower, twisty sections. Hydration is essential here as competitors can lose several kilos over just one stage, many carry larger fluid hydration packs and extra water to cope with the very hot and humid conditions.
With a new base at the Olympic Equestrian Centre at Markopoulo - 30 kilometres south-east of Athens centre - Rally HQ, Service Park and a new gravel super special stage inside the stadium are all conveniently located together. Almost half of the rally's 334 kilometres are completely new, once again signifying the importance of experience and an accurate reconnaissance for crews.
In 2003 Latvala became the youngest person to drive for a manufacturer team, when he steered a Ford Focus RS to tenth overall on the Acropolis Rally, as a works-entrant for the Ford Motor Company. Since then the 22-year-old has taken on the Greek roads two more times, finishing the event last year sixth in the Production WRC category and 22nd outright.
Solberg knows the challenges that the Acropolis Rally can bring all-too-well. In 2005 he had a large accident which ended his event campaign but followed up last year to finish fifth overall; just over one minute away from a podium spot.
Wilson, Britain's top hope for the future, has only competed here once, in 2006, where he finished in the top-ten driving for the Stobart team; even though his body's energy was drained by a bout of food poisoning for the duration of the event. The Cumbrian driver will be looking to go one better, aiming for more points, after success in Mexico earlier this year.
Stobart M-Sport Ford