In Greece, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia scored their fifth world championship victory after a thrilling duel with teammates, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
This gave Citroën a record-breaking 22nd double finish in the World Rally Championship. And thanks to their 100th podium, Loeb and Elena have increased their lead in the Drivers’ World Championship. The Citroën Total World Rally Team has also widened the gap in the Manufacturers’ title chase.
After two long legs, the last day of the Acropolis Rally was like a final sprint with only 65 timed kilometers. Sébastien Loeb, the overall leader only 2.2sec ahead of his nearest pursuer, was handicapped by being the first on the road and knew it would be difficult for him to fight for victory.
In the first passage through Aghii Theodori (SS14), Sébastien Ogier overtook the seven-time world champion to lead by a tenth of a second. But Loeb fought back and retook first place in New Pissia 1, also by 0.1sec.
“I’m in a situation in which I have to take risks to defend my position. I pushed even harder compared to the first two days,” he admitted at the mid-leg halt. “Despite that it went off well and we managed a damage limitation exercise. As for winning, I don’t know yet. I’ll have to see how big the impact of sweeping the road is second time through.”
“Seb was very quick and we didn’t make up much time on him. I thought that cleaning would play a more important role this morning. Maybe I didn’t push hard enough. I’ll have to up the pace and take more risks second time though,” added Ogier.
While Loeb stated that he had driven a perfect stage in Aghii Theodori 2, Ogier made the break and pulled out 6.2sec over his teammate. He was back in the lead again and put himself out of range of a possible attack in New Pissia 2, increasing the gap to over 10sec.
The 4km Power Stage changed nothing and Ogier set the quickest time, 0.009sec in front of Loeb: The Citroën drivers scored an additional 2 and 3 points each.
Ogier savored his third victory of the season: “This perfect result, rewarded by 28 points, is going to do our championship hopes a lot of good! I’d really like to thank the whole team for two things. One, it gave Seb and I the same chance to battle for victory, and I’m proud to have honored their trust with a win. Secondly, I have to underline the reliability of the DS3 WRC, which had a problem-free three days in a race that was run at high speed.”
Despite his frustration at having been first out on the road for two days, Loeb also drew positive conclusions: “Before the start I was gunning for outright victory. I gave everything I had, but circumstances meant I wasn’t able to fight on equal terms. I still think I was the quickest. The 20 points I’ve scored will help me open up the gap over Mikko Hirvonen even further.”
Meanwhile, Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished third in the grueling Acropolis Rally in Greece after a thrilling final leg. They hunted down Loeb in their Ford Fiesta RS WRC during a tense battle for second, and ended just 3sec behind after the duel was only decided in the final speed test.
Hirvonen was fastest overall during the last leg, based in the hills outside Loutraki, 90km west of Athens. Teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were second quickest in their Fiesta RS WRC, en route to ninth place following a troubled weekend. The Ford Abu Dhabi drivers won four of today's five special stages in this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Acropolis is famed as the toughest round of the series. Rocky gravel mountain tracks and intense heat that reached 35ºC provided a tough challenge for both man and machine throughout the three-day event. Competitors tackled 18 speed tests covering 348.80km, with today's 65.58km of action the shortest leg of the weekend.
Hirvonen restarted fourth, with the leading quartet covered by just 22.4sec. The 30 year-old Finn climbed to third in the opening test and rapidly closed on Loeb. He entered the final Power Stage just 2.6sec behind the Frenchman, but was unable to clinch the runner-up place. Third fastest time in the last test earned him a bonus point for the drivers' championship, in which Hirvonen remains second. "It was a great fight and I took big risks today to try to close the gaps, driving over every bank and rock," he said. "There's no way I would have survived all three days driving like that! It's the second consecutive rally where I've lost a final day battle by a handful of seconds and that's frustrating. It was a rough and extremely hot rally, but that's normal here, and the car worked perfectly all weekend.
"I knew it was going to be close and if there was one more 20km stage then I believe I could have taken second. I'm consistently scoring good points in the championship, but I need a win. The next round is my home event in Finland and nothing less than victory will be enough there," he added.
Latvala, meanwhile, was delayed by transmission problems on Friday and turbo failure on Saturday. However, the 26 year-old Finn maintained a strong pace and after restarting in 11th, climbed back into the points to finish ninth. He won three stages to take his tally for the weekend to five.
"It was a hard weekend, but despite my technical troubles, I finished in the points and I'm relieved to be here," he explained. "I had a good pace and targeted the bonus points in the Power Stage, but it just wasn't our rally. The Greek Gods were not looking after me at all here.
M-Sport Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg and Ilka Minor finished fifth, one position ahead of team-mates Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin, who were unsettled by an engine misfire on Saturday.
FERM Power Tools driver Dennis Kuipers and Frederic Miclotte finished 10th while the third M-Sport Stobart car of Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson recovered to claim 12th after retiring on the opening day when he went off the road.
Rene Kuipers and Annemieke Hulzebos were 17th, while Lambros Athanassoulas and Nikolaos Zakheos were 19th after recovering from a first day retirement with broken suspension.
Evgeny Novikov and Denis Giraudet finished 20th, despite retiring with broken suspension in the first leg and again yesterday with a broken alternator belt. Munchi's Ford duo Federico Villagra and José Diaz retired with two stages remaining after a return of the engine issues that forced them out yesterday. Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson had set the early pace in Greece before finishing fourth on the Acropolis Rally.
Kimi Räikkönen and Kaj Lindström proved to be increasingly competitive, finally finishing in seventh overall on the event. The two Citroën DS3 WRCs entered by Van Merksteijn Motorsport retired on the opening day of the rally.
Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson have been among the frontrunners since the start of the season, and they were the first to show their true form on the tricky Greek stages. They strung together four fastest stage times to occupy the top of the time sheets by the end of the first day of the Acropolis Rally on Friday.
Petter and Chris established an advantage of more than 50sec over the chasing trio that consisted of Sébastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen and Sébastien Ogier, but this forced them into running first on the road throughout Saturday. The loose surface caused the crew some difficulties, but nonetheless the Petter Solberg World Rally Team duo managed to end the day on the provisional podium, just 20sec or so off the leaders.
Petter Solberg fought against Mikko Hirvonen on the final day to end up fourth at the finish, scoring 12 championship points.
“I pushed really hard and gave it everything,” said the Norwegian. “I’m pleased with our performance and my driving, as well as with the team, who all did a fantastic job. We couldn’t have done better; it just wasn’t possible. We’re a private team and we’re fighting against the factory outfits.”
Kimi Räikkönen and Kaj Lindström missed the previous two events, which were not on their program. By the end of the opening day they were 10th despite a puncture. They then picked up their pace throughout Saturday to make progress up the leader board and claim seventh place on SS8. The Ice 1 Racing crew showed their consistency to hold onto the position until the end, having managed their rally perfectly.
“We weren’t the quickest out there but our goal was to steer clear of problems in order to be there at the end,” said the Finnish driver. “The final two days in Greece were extremely satisfying. It’s a great result for us before heading to Rally Finland.”
The two Citroën DS3 WRCs entered by Van Merksteijn Motorsport did not make it to the end of the opening day. Peter van Merksteijn Jr went off the road on SS3. His co-driver Eddy Chevaillier was taken to hospital in Lamia and then airlifted to Athens for further medical examination. He has a fracture and a crack in his lumbar vertebrae, which will mean he needs to be immobilized for about 10 days. The entire Citroën Racing team wishes him a full and swift recovery. Peter van Merskteijn Sr went off the road in the team’s other DS3 WRC on SS5.
The WRC pauses for a mid-season break before restarting with Rally Finland on 28-30 July.
|1.||S Ogier/J Ingrassia||FRA||Citroen DS3||4hr 04min 44.3sec|
|2.||S Loeb/D Elena||FRA||Citroen DS3||4hr 04min 54.8sec|
|3.||M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen||FIN||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 04min 57.8sec|
|4.||P Solberg/C Patterson||NOR||Citroen DS3||4hr 05min 23.1 sec|
|5.||H Solberg/I Minor||NOR||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 10min 09.0sec|
|6.||M Wilson/S Martin||GBR||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 11min 39.0sec|
|7.||K Räikkönen/K Lindström||FIN||Citroen DS3||4hr 13min 13.7sec|
|8.||J Hanninen/M Markkula||FIN||Skoda Fabia||4hr 16min 19.0sec|
|9.||J-M Latvala/M Anttila||FIN||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 17min 53.1sec|
|10.||D Kuipers/F Miclotte||NLD||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 19min 54.4sec|
|2.||Ford Abu Dhabi||195pt|
|3.||M-Sport Stobart Ford||87pt|
|5.||Ice 1 Racing||34pt|