Acropolis fixture returns to the series this week for the first time since 2013.
EKO Acropolis Rally Greece (9 - 12 September), a fixture with an historic reputation as one of the toughest in the FIA World Rally Championship, returns to the series this week for the first time since 2013.
Punishing rocky tracks in the mountains north of Athens and blistering mid-summer temperatures established the ‘Rally of Gods’ as a WRC classic after it first appeared in the championship’s inaugural season in 1973.
The gravel roads are expected to be smoother and early September means the thermometer will be lower than its traditional June date, but the Acropolis still demands respect as the battle for world titles moves into the final third of the season.
Sébastien Ogier carries a 38-point lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Elfyn Evans, who is tied with Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville, winner last time out on home roads in Belgium.
Ogier has duelled with the Acropolis on four occasions, and came out on top in 2011, but is treating its return like an entirely new rally.
“The Acropolis Rally is one of these events which made the history of the WRC and we’ve missed it now for a few years,” said the Frenchman.
“Of course, we can have some idea of what to expect from the past, but it will be a new event in the sense that I think everybody will have to write new pace notes. It’s always nice when everybody starts from the same level like that.”
Ogier and Evans are joined in Toyota Yaris World Rally Cars by Kalle Rovanperä, the trio with their sights also set on defending the Japanese squad’s 41-point lead in the manufacturers’ series.
Neuville is joined in Hyundai i20 World Rally Cars by Ott Tänak and Dani Sordo. Spaniard Sordo replaces Craig Breen in the Korean team’s line-up and is partnered by his third co-driver of the season as Candido Carrera makes his debut.
Neuville is under no illusions as to what faces him.
“The stages have some very twisty profiles with a lot of loose stones and hot temperatures. It will be very challenging as not only do you need to go flat out, but you also need to manage the car and the tyres. Strategy will be very important, but that’s something we like,” he said.
M-Sport Ford has traditionally revelled on the rough stuff. The British squad won the Acropolis seven times in 10 years between 2000 and 2009. Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith drive Fiesta World Rally Cars and are joined for this round by Greek Joudan Serderidis.
The top-level entries are completed by Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet in an i20.
Rain left a coating of thick mud on the tracks as recce got under way earlier in the week. With better forecasts for the rally itself and temperatures climbing, it remains to be seen how quickly the roads will dry.
After Thursday afternoon’s start beneath Athens’ Acropolis citadel, a quickfire asphalt blast in front of the capital’s stunning Parliament building opens the action. Three more days of competition around Loutraki and Lamia follow before Sunday afternoon’s finish after 15 stages covering 292.19km.