Acropolis - Munchi's Ford - Preview
Munchi's Ford driver Federico Villagra is looking to get back to his early-season points scoring form as he takes on the classic Acropolis Rally of Greece, the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship which takes place this week.
seven-time Argentine champion had a flawless start to his 2009 campaign and scored points in each of his three opening rallies, culminating in a fourth place at his home event at Rally Argentina.
But Villagra was hit by mechanical problems while co-driver Jorge Perez Companc was struck by illness in Sardinia, the preceding round of the championship, and the duo withdrew from the event on Day Two.
With Companc unable to take the co-driver's seat in Greece due to business commitments, Villagra will again be joined by Jose Diaz.
In two visits to the Acropolis Rally, Villagra has yet to score points but with the event moving to a new venue in Loutraki, a coastal town 85kms west of the Greek capital Athens, this year's event will represent a new challenge for all drivers.
Thursday's ceremonial start takes the drivers to a bridge over the historic Corinth Canal, a busy shipping lane linking the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, where thousands of fans are expected to turn out for a view of the world's best rally cars.
On Day One the 47 crews entered head north from the new Service Park on the shores of the Gulf of Corinth and into the mountains for 140.40kms of stages on the winding and rough mountain roads. Some of the stages have been seen in previous Acropolis rallies but many of the trails will be unfamiliar to the drivers with the recce taking on an added significance.
An additional element of difficulty for the teams on the first day is the fact that they only have one remote service, at Itea, in the middle of the day. Drivers will be aiming to have a trouble-free opening leg due to the limited parts available to them during the fifteen-minute remote service break.
The crews remain in the Gulf of Corinth region on Day Two, but this time the action will move south and west of the Service Park to cover two passes of a three-stage loop through the hills, a total of 135.36kms.
But with two days completed, one of the toughest challenges of the rally still awaits the drivers on Day Three as they take on the longest stage of the rally, the 33 kilometres making up the Aghii Theodori test, before reaching the finish in Loutraki.
The heat is expected to play a big part during this race with the temperatures in the area hitting well over 30 degrees Celsius in June, meaning that drivers could be experiencing sweltering conditions of up to 45 degrees inside the car. Fitness and hydration will be vital to ensure that drivers maintain concentration in the challenging environment.
The well-proven Ford Focus RS WRC will also be tested by the heat and road conditions. Traditionally in Greece the stages are rocky with loose stones potentially damaging the underside of the car while the Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyres will be taking the strain of the heat coupled with abrasive conditions.
"I like the tough conditions that the rally provides and it's better for me this year with more new stages, as this means everyone is closer to being on the same level with new pacenotes," Villagra observed.
"We have always went well in Greece before and it's a challenging event that I really enjoy," the Argentine continued. "After our problems in Sardinia we tried a few different settings and did make some improvements so we should have a good set-up for the rally."
"The heat will make things even harder," Villagra recognised. "But for me this is all part of the conditions that this historic rally throws at competitors."