Acropolis: P-WRC Finish
2005 P-WRC Champion Toshi Arai and co-driver Tony Sircombe (Subaru) drove an excellent rally to take their first PWRC victory since Mexico last year, on the fourth round of the 2007 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, BP Ultimate Acropolis
Rally. After a lot of excitement amongst the leading crews, Red Bull-backed Austrian Andreas Aigner brought his Mitsubishi home in second, 2min28sec adrift of the Japanese, ahead of San Marino driver Mirco Baldacci (Subaru) in third. Overall, Arai now has a 14 point lead in the P-WRC standings over Higgins.
While Mark Higgins (GB, Mitsubishi) and Araujo equalled the best time on the opening superspecial stage, it was Swede Patrik Flodin who initially set the pace on the first stage proper, only to roll his Impreza on the very next test. From SS3 Aigner took the lead, which he temporarily lent to Arai by SS4, but he reclaimed until SS7 when a puncture pulled the Austrian back to seventh, allowing Arai to firmly take the lead. Juho Hänninen (Mitsubishi) worked his way to second quite quickly, which he defended throughout leg two, with Araujo in third. But a 20-second penalty for the Portuguese saw Aigner start the final day in third spot. After a fantastic rally for 25-year-old Finn Hänninen, disaster struck on the final day when he damaged the steering arm after driving with a puncture on the morning's first test. He lost over 30 minutes making repairs, only to then lose his brakes and experience fuel pump problems later in the stage, so he was forced to retire for safety reasons. After losing a lot of power in the morning of leg three, Araujo also decided to stop to prevent further damage to the engine, relinquishing his fourth place. So Aigner protected his adopted second place and Higgins moved in to fourth.
Baldacci's rally didn't start too well when he dropped a minute driving on a puncture for eight kilometres on SS4. Then his shock absorbers overheated after 20km on the long SS10, requiring him to slow down for a while, which cost him a little time. The rest of leg two went well for the San Marino driver as did the last day, allowing him to defend his podium spot.
After a good start, Mark Higgins (GB, Mitsubishi) stopped to change two punctures in SS4 and was then caught up in queue of other people who had also stopped to change punctures. He wasn't pushing too hard on the second day, just enough to get back into the points but still trying to stay out of trouble. He had an issue with a slipping clutch for the first few kilometres of the long SS10 and a damaged track control arm was causing problems during the last group of stages. But a steering issue on the final day didn't seem to hinder the Brit too much and he drove steadily to fourth. After a recent run of bad luck, defending P-WRC champion Nasser Al-Attiyah (Subaru) was hoping for a better rally, although things didn't go smoothly for the Qatari to start with. On SS6 he dropped two and a half minutes when a tyre came off its rim and he then got caught in dust of the two cars which passed him. The next day started better but completely worn out tyres on the long SS14 and a broken track control arm on SS15 caused problems, as well as the engine cutting out as a result of a fuel pump issue, making progress in the latter part of the day difficult. Staying out of trouble on leg three, he was happy to take four points for fifth.
After the team's container was delayed in transit and was only to be delivered to the service park in the middle of leg one, Takuma Kamada (J, Subaru) looked uncertain to start the event. But at the last minute he was able to borrow the recce car from Subaru Rally Team Russia along with a gearbox, and an engine, suspension and tools from Arai's driving a car that was not to his preferred set-up, he made adjustments over the first few days. Other than needing to change his handbrake on leg two, he drove relatively trouble-free, and he was pleased to have worked his way from 12th on leg one in a borrowed car to eventually score points for sixth place.
Gabriel Pozzo (RA, Mitsubishi) reached third at best on the first day but a broken rear differential on the long SS10 cost him four minutes and he had to complete the rest of the group in a similar state. On SS19 on the last day, a gearbox problem saw him lose third and fourth gear and over a minute in time but he continued to finish seventh. Entered in to the event by Errani Team Group, Simone Campedelli (I, Mitsubishi) reached fourth at best on leg one and despite a lot of understeering, he was happy to be fifth at the end of the day. The 20-year-old Italian, who finished fourth in Group N in Cyprus last year, spent much of his time simply trying not to make mistakes but, like others, he experienced high tyre wear on the long SS10 and SS14, losing time on both changing punctures. But other than missing a few junctions on leg three, the Italian, currently lying second in the Italian Championship, took the last point for eighth.
Evgeniy Vertunov (RUS, Subaru), entered into the event by Subaru Rally Team Russia, had problems with the intercooler on SS2 and before the end of the same stage he had lost the use of his brakes. A puncture two stages later saw him drop a lot of time and he then got caught behind Mirco Baldacci who had restarted for the same reason. He overshot a junction on SS10 and a wrong pace note later in the stage saw him hit a tree, breaking a window and stalling the engine. But escaped damage on leg three and, having set a few top seven stage times, was happy to eventually finish ninth considering he usually drives a Ford Fiesta in the Ford Fiesta Sporting Trophy International. Loris Baldacci (RSM, Subaru) struggled on leg one with tyres that were too hard and he drove on a puncture for eight kilometres on the last stage of the first day. But other than finding the long stages of leg two exhausting, he drove steadily and problem-free to finish in 10th.
OMV-backed Slovenian driver Andrej Jereb (Mitsubishi) drove carefully on leg one but he reduced engine power to avoid any risk to the turbo. But the story changed on leg two as he damaged the exhaust on SS10 and spent the rest of the group of stages with exhaust fumes coming in the car. And with differential mapping that wasn't working correctly, along with a puncture on SS14, leg two didn't continue in his favour. A puncture on the last day was his only woe and he finished 11th.
On his first outing in Greece, Jordanian driver Amjad Farrah (Mitsubishi) had a difficult event as he felt he was down on power throughout, with the engine cutting out intermittently during the first two days. He found it hard steering clear of rocks but although he didn't have any punctures, he felt his grip was challenged by tyres that were too hard. Finally, he lost turbo boost on SS19 and was simply happy to take the experience and finish in 12th.
Italian Fabio Frisiero (Mitsubishi) started the rally perfectly but he damaged the differential on a rock on the long SS10 which then caused so much noise that the crew had difficulty hearing anything in the car for the rest of the group of stages. He later broke the driveshaft support and drove on a puncture on SS18 but decided to change it as he was losing so much time. He finished 13th.
On only his third WRC event, Estonian driver Martin Rauam (Mitsubishi) had more problems throughout than he could have imagined. He reached fifth at best on leg one but an electrical problem on SS7 saw him accrue penalties for not completing the last two tests of the day. Leg two started with a broken fuel pump which was changed at the remote service but he then rolled his Lancer in S11, breaking the window, which he had to tape up mid-stage once spectators had helped him back onto the road, remarkably only losing two minutes. The fuel pump problem continued to plague him through the final two days but on his first time in Greece and in his first year with Mitsubishi, the 23-year-old was happy to take a stage win (SS18) and finish the rally in 14th.
Stuart Jones (GB, Mitsubishi) had a disappointing start to the rally as he damaged his gearbox on the opening superspecial stage on Thursday evening. With no spare to replace it, he was forced to retire. Patrik Flodin's (S) rally was truncated early on as he rolled his Subaru on the second stage proper on leg one, damaging the roll cage, thus preventing him from continuing. Leszek Kuzaj (POL) rolled his Subaru on the first stage on Friday but after landing back on his wheels he managed to continue, albeit without his window and with a damaged windscreen, falling back to 20th. He worked his way back to 13th but an accident on the first run through the event's longest test saw him retire, after a small oil leak caused a fire, preventing him from continuing. Kristian Sohlberg (FIN, Subaru) started badly when he dropped 14 minutes on SS4 changing a broken steering arm mid-stage. But he was also struggling with incredibly heavy tyre wear on all stages which was more prominent on the first run through the long 48.88km Agii Theodori, when a worn out front left tyre that was changed after 32km was worn out again by the end of the same stage. A broken driveshaft on SS12 required fixing but with more damaged tyres, the Finn opted to retire for safety reasons. Cypriot Spyros Pavlides (Subaru) spun on all of the opening group of stages, although he stayed troublefree on day one. But he was also left with threadbare tyres after the runs through the long stages and after damaging the track control arm after SS15 and incurring time penalties for the final two stages, he retired before the final day.
The TaCK Rally Team which had entered Niall McShea into the event was unable to take the start in Greece for reasons of force majeure and with unanimous consent of all the other P-WRC competitors, TaCK was allowed by the FIA to nominate Rally Japan as a replacement event.
Toshi Arai, Subaru Impreza WRX STI
“I'm very, very happy with this win as it's a difficult rally. Some places you have to go steady and others you can push. I hurt my back yesterday on the superspecial so I had to be careful today. But we've been here before so we used our experience and if you go fast at the beginning, you're probably not going to finish. Now it's great that we're leading the championship as we don't do the last two rallies of the season and Higgins will be really strong there.”
Andreas Aigner, Mitsubishi Lancer EvoIX
“This is a really good finish and other than a puncture on the first day and one broken damper today, we had no problems which is the way it has to be in Greece. You just have to stay out of trouble. But the car is really strong and it paid off. We don't have any chance for the championship any more but I'm happy with this result.”
Mirco Baldacci, Mitsubishi Lancer EvoIX
“This year is better than last and even though we started with a puncture early on, we worked our way back from eighth to third, so I'm very happy as it's a very difficult rally for cars, drivers and tyres. But NZ is next which I really like and we have always been quite fast there so I hope for a good result.”