Day three of the Acropolis Rally proved to be just as demanding as Friday’s leg, but Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena managed to keep their noses ahead. The eight-time World Champions held onto the overall lead, 10.2s ahead of Petter Solberg.
Ready to complete what would be a great overall result for Citroën Total World Rally Team, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen occupy the final spot in the provisional top three.
Widely expected to be decisive in the battle for victory, the penultimate day of the Acropolis Rally was held on roads in the Peloponnese. Winding around Mont Kyllini, the loop of four stages, contested twice, added up to 75km, a figure close to the maximum of 80km authorised by the WRC regulations.
In setting the fastest time on SS10, Sébastien Loeb confirmed that he was determined to put up a real fight to hold onto first place. Latvala kept up the pressure on the next two stages, but the Citroën Total World Rally Team driver responded with another stage win on SS13. As the crews reached Loutraki for the midday service park, Seb was only 2.2s ahead of his rival: “Apart from a few sections which were particularly full of potholes and rocks, I had to push as hard as possible to hold onto the lead. I think it’ll be even worse this afternoon when we’ll undoubtedly be taking on the roughest, most rock-strewn gravel stages of the season.”
Whilst the crews worried about the heat, several heavy downpours hit the stages, leaving the mountain roads extremely wet. Although the threat posed by Latvala faded after trouble on SS14, Sébastien Loeb was still unable to relax. 20.1s off the lead at midday, Petter Solberg managed to make up half of the time in the afternoon.
“My situation is a bit more comfortable than yesterday evening, but obviously it’s not over yet,” confirmed Sébastien at the end of the day. “I had more difficult conditions than our rival, as two showers fell just as I set off. We were able to manage the situation and we will be starting the final leg in a good position. However, it would be good to hold off Petter!”
After starting the day in fourth overall, Mikko Hirvonen moved back up into third place at the end of SS14. Somewhat isolated in the standings, the Finn opted for a cautious approach, settling for third position: “It has been quite a difficult day for me. I struggled to find the right level of aggression this morning; I was too hesitant and I lost time by driving like that. When Jari-Matti had his problem early in the afternoon, I found myself in a situation where I had more to lose than to gain. At the same time, the conditions were incredibly difficult. The stages were wet, but the showers were so isolated that you never knew how much grip you would have. It reminded me of Monte-Carlo, driving on the ice with slick tyres!”
“Today was, as expected, difficult and full of incidents,” summarised Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Seb and Daniel have held onto the lead, although they are being put under pressure by Petter Solberg. The final day looks like it will be slightly less complicated to manage, with two 30km loops of stages to be contested, and the weather is expected to be sunnier and drier. A win for Seb and podium finish for Mikko would give Citroën Total World Rally Team a very good result in terms of the World Championship standings.”
NEUVILLE FIGHTS BACK, AL-ATTIYAH SET FOR RALLY2 RESTART
Improving throughout the day, Thierry Neuville produced another error-free performance on the most difficult stages of the season. The Citroën Junior World Rally Team driver showed particularly good form in the afternoon, going fourth fastest on SS14 and third fastest SS16. Now seventh in the overall standings, the Belgian is aiming to make it to the end of the rally in that position.
Nasser Al-Attiyah’s rally was brought to a halt on SS14. With a broken driveshaft, the Qatari had no choice but to retire given that he still had three long stages left to complete before reaching the service park. Eleventh overall, four seconds behind Mikkelsen in 10th, Nasser will resume the rally tomorrow under Rally2 rules.