Novikov fastest under the sunAcropolis - Shakedown
The weekend will be a hot one upon the stages of the Acropolis Rally, and the warm and sunny conditions which greeted the World Rally Championship crews this morning was a taster of things to come.
service park, the competitors made their way towards the 3.10-kilometre route for their set-up runs. The session took place under a bright summer sun in temperatures hovering around the 35 degrees Celsius mark; without a trace of wind to be found, dust remained suspended in the air after each car's passage. Not an easy morning for the crews.
It became apparent however that the heat and dust were not enough to deter Evgeny Novikov: the young Russian offered the Citroen Junior Team a surprise fastest run at the conclusion of the Acropolis Rally shakedown.
"The stage was good but as the cars were passing it became quite rough," the CJT driver declared.
Novikov came ahead of another C4 WRC, this one driven by the Citroen team's Sebastien Loeb
. The five-time champion completed three runs before declaring himself satisfied with the settings: "The stage was OK and so was the car."
Another surprise appeared on the shakedown list as the fastest Ford Focus car did not bear the works team's colours, but rather those of the Munchi's Ford outfit. After retiring in Sardinia, Federico Villagra is eager to take on the Greek routes.
"I am satisfied with the car," the Argentine said. "I tried some adjustments to the differential set-up."
Mikko Hirvonen came next at the wheel of his factory Ford, completing the dusty test runs in a good mood but with a few further tweaks planned before beginning the rally itself tomorrow.
"The SS was fine and so was our feeling from the car. I will make some adjustments, though," Hirvonen shared.
Stobart Ford driver Matthew Wilson set the fifth-best time and was followed by Rally Sardinia winner Jari-Matti Latvala. However, after four passages across the shakedown stage, Latvala was not entirely satisfied.
"In the first passage the SS seemed quite soft in some places and rocky in others," the Ford team driver explained. "I tried using harder springs and I adjusted the set-up of the car, but I was not so happy. I think I prefer the previous one."
Dani Sordo claimed the seventh-best time for the Citroen team, less than a second faster than Petter Solberg's privateer Citroen machine. Solberg's car suffered in the heat of Sardinia and with conditions even hotter in Greece, modifications to the Xsara WRC became necessary.
"The car seems better in general," said the Norwegian. "We also changed the cooling system. We will know for sure tomorrow."
Setting the ninth-quickest result, Citroen Junior Team driver Sebastien Ogier found the stage slippery as he worked on different suspension settings, but nonetheless completed the shakedown with confidence: "Generally, I am satisfied."
Rounding out the top ten was Henning Solberg, who was not in a position to take full advantage of the shakedown stage.
"In the first passage we were writing the stage because we didn't have notes due to a problem with the recce car yesterday," the Stobart Ford driver explained.
Mads Ostberg had some tweaking to do with his Adapta Team Subaru Impreza: "I made adjustments because the car was understeering and I wanted to make it a bit more oversteering. Otherwise both the stage and the car were OK."
Meanwhile, CJT driver Conrad Rautenbach admitted to committing an error during his maiden run: "At the first passage we made a small mistake and then we had a spin."
Afterwards, the road conditions prevented the Zimbabwean from bettering his times.
"Towards to the end, the stage was quite bad and there was a lot of dust from the other cars," he reported, although he considered that the nature of the route itself was representative of what the crews should expect starting tomorrow.
"It was a good shakedown stage. There were little jumps and it was quite similar to the stages of the rally," Rautenbach said.
Acropolis Rally – Shakedown times:
1 NOVIKOV-MOSCATT Citroen C4 WRC 2:19.8
2 LOEB-ELENA Citroen C4 WRC 2:20.1
3 VILLAGRA-DIAZ Ford Focus WRC 2:20.2
4 HIRVONEN-LEHTINEN Ford Focus WRC 2:20.4
5 WILSON-MARTIN Ford Focus WRC 2:20.6
6 LATVALA-ANTTILA Ford Focus WRC 2:20.8
7 SORDO-MARTI Citroen C4 WRC 2:21.2
8 SOLBERG-MILLS Citroen Xsara WRC 2:22.0
9 OGIER-INGRASSIA Citroen C4 WRC 2:22.3
10 SOLBERG-MENKERUD Ford Focus WRC 2:22.6
11 OSTBERG-UNNERUD Subaru Impreza WRC 2:23.0
12 RAUTENBACH-BARRITT Citroen C4 WRC 2:26.5