A long and intense day of competition, day two of the Acropolis Rally saw a non-stop battle between the leading four contenders. Although by no means unbeatable, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena gained the upper hand over their rivals. The eight-time World Champions hold a 6.5s lead over the second-placed crew.
Despite losing time on the day’s final stage, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen still have every chance of securing a podium finish for the Citroën Total World Rally Team’s second DS3 WRC.
After Thursday evening’s single stage, the Acropolis Rally competitors were faced with a genuine test of their valour this Friday. The day lasted over 16 hours, 706km long with 169km of timed stages, adding up to close to 2hrs 15mins spent taking on mountain roads which were still sodden after the heavy rain that had fallen overnight…
At 6.53am, the first drivers set off on the Aghia Marina stage. The gloves were off immediately between the WRC’s top drivers: Loeb, Hirvonen, Latvala and Solberg. Sébastien Loeb set three second fastest times to take the lead after SS4, while Mikko lost his third place to Petter Solberg.
After a quick stop off at the remote service park located in the port of Itea, the scrap for supremacy continued to be just as intense on the foothills of Mount Parnassus. Mikko Hirvonen and then Sébastien Loeb stepped up their pace to claim stage wins on Bauxites 1 (SS5) and Drossohori (SS6) respectively. This double performance enabled Seb to stretch his overall lead to 10s and Mikko to take back third place from Solberg.
Another stop in Itea provided the crews with a short breather before taking on the final stretch. Sébastien Loeb held off Latvala to make it back to Loutraki as leader. Although he only managed one stage win today, the eight-time World Champion amassed eight second fastest times, four of which were less than a second behind the pace-setter! “Today was a tricky day to negotiate,” said a relieved Sébastien Loeb on his return to the shores of the Corinthe. “In addition to being a long leg, the road conditions also made our job more complicated. Some sections were totally dry, others were covered in mud. We ran the entire day on Michelin Latitude Cross hard ‘H1’ tyres, which worked pretty well in all of the conditions. I really enjoyed scrapping for tenths of a second with Mikko, Jari-Matti and Petter throughout the day; it’s been a while since we’ve raced like that!”
Mikko Hirvonen, however, lost significant ground on Thiva 2 (SS9). Unsighted due to the dust thrown up by the car in front of him, he couldn’t avoid picking up a puncture which meant he lost 24s in one go. Still fourth overall, 31.9s adrift of Solberg, Mikko has by no means given up the fight at the half-way point of the rally. “It’s a shame to finish the day like that, but I’m not giving up,” confirmed the Finn. “It was a long day, but I feel good. I am going to keep pushing to try and close the gap to Petter and… well, you never know! The rest of the rally looks set to be very difficult; we haven’t seen anything yet.”
“Apart from the time lost by Mikko on SS6, it is pretty good for the sport to see four drivers fight it out like this,” concluded Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “The breakdown of the leg and the road conditions created multitude of minor twists and turns, but at the end of the day, the gaps are still pretty narrow. We all agree in the team that the rally will be decided tomorrow, on stages featuring much rougher and more abrasive gravel than those we’ve seen today.”
AL-ATTIYAH AND NEUVILLE AVOID THE PITFALLS
In spite of being handicapped by his starting position, Nasser Al-Attiyah produced a fine performance on this long day of racing. The Qatari ended the day in seventh position overall: “It was particularly complicated for me on the first runs, when the racing line wasn’t very clearly marked. I am pleased not to have made any mistakes and would like to congratulate the team who helped me make the right tyre choices. Although I am used to long rallies, today wore me out.”
Thierry Neuville could have made into the top 5 in the overall standings, but a broken driveshaft on his DS3 WRC dropped him back to 11th position: “We removed the driveshaft before completing the final stage with rear-wheel drive only; it wasn’t easy because the brakes no longer worked properly, but we made it and we’re still in the rally! Before the problem, there were a few good moments, like my second fastest time on SS6. I’m pleased with the pace I managed when everything was working well.”