After starting with the goal of reaching the end of the Acropolis Rally without needing to use the Rally2 rules, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul (Citroën Junior World Rally Team) produced an error-free performance to take sixth place on one of the season’s most difficult events.
Contested on what are reputed to be the roughest gravel roads in the World Championship, the 2012 Acropolis Rally more than lived up to expectations, perhaps except as regards the weather. Throughout the four days of racing, heavy showers made life complicated for crews and engineers alike, forced to keep switching between hard and soft Michelin Latitude Cross tyres to adapt to the road conditions, which varied between wet and muddy to dry.
After a single timed stage on Thursday evening, day two served up a first test of the drivers’ valour. Featuring 169km of stages without any stops at the main service park, the drivers had to look after their machines. Despite producing an error-free performance, Thierry Neuville suffered a broken transmission on Friday’s penultimate test. After finishing the stage in his DS3 WRC with rear-wheel drive only, the Belgian made it back to Loutraki over seven minutes adrift of the leader. “It’s a shame because I could have made it into the top five, but I’m glad to still be in the race. I’m pleased with my times, especially going second fastest on SS6.”
Run on even rougher gravel and rock-strewn roads, Saturday provided Thierry with the opportunity to shine. Improving as the rally wore on, he showed particularly good form in the second loop, despite being contested in near-apocalyptic conditions. Fourth fastest on SS14 and third fastest on SS16, the Citroën Junior WRT driver moved up into seventh position: “I’m pleased to have completed another day without making any mistakes. I felt good in the car; I had good pace notes and I was able to push in the less tricky sections.”
Petter Solberg’s retirement on the final day meant Thierry ended the rally in sixth position: “I’m really pleased with the result; first of all, I would like to thank Citroën Racing for their support. The team really helped me to make the breakthrough and I have progressed again this weekend. This rally was the most difficult I have ever experienced, so I am all the more proud to have made it to the end.”
In the points in the last three rallies – Mexico, Portugal and Argentina – Nasser Al-Attiyah had a more testing time this weekend in Greece. And yet, the rally had started well for Nasser, who held seventhplace on Friday evening. “I tried to adapt my pace to the conditions and the team have always advised me well as far as tyre choice is concerned. That meant I wasn’t too affected by my starting position, which wasn’t great.”
On Saturday, the Qatari’s race came to a halt on SS14: “The driveshaft broke. These things happen, especially on rough surfaces like the one here. We still had three stages to complete and it wouldn’t have been possible to do them with rear-wheel drive only; it was better to call it a day and look to rejoin the next day under Rally2 rules.”
Sunday’s leg proved to be a short-lived experience for the no.7 DS3 WRC, after the car went off in the first few kilometres of SS18. “We went through a dried out watersplash which sent the car into the air. It landed on the nose and we ended up half rolling the car,” recounted Nasser. “As the radiator was damaged, we couldn’t continue without running the risk of engine failure. So we decided to retire.”
At the next rally, the Brother Rally New Zealand (21-24 June), Thierry Neuville will drive the DS3 WRC of the Qatar World Rally Team. Nasser Al-Attiyah has to concentrate on preparations for the London Olympic Games, where he is due to represent his country in Skeet shooting.