The WRC held its 10th round in historic Greece after a five-week summer break. The Greece Rally, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, is the most challenging and tough event in the entire WRC. But this year was challenging in a slightly different way. Forest fires broke out across the country due to the climate disaster that struck the world. However, what the racers actually faced was a huge downpour brought by the storm Daniel. In some areas, two years’ worth of rainfall (800 mm) fell in one day, and the roads were completely muddy during the recce (driving before race for pacenotes writing).
Of course, writing pacenotes was difficult. According to the weather forecast, the rain was expected to continue until Thursday and then clear up from Saturday. Hyundai Motorsport’s Esapekka Lappi explained after the pre-race: “It’s never easy to write pacenotes in these conditions. Just because the floor turns to mud won’t make a huge difference to your pacenote writing, but fog will change everything. Of course, road surface conditions are also a big issue; That will change over the weekend, and while some will dry out quickly and provide better traction, it may also cause water puddles to suddenly appear. Things will be tough. ”
When the rain stops and road conditions change drastically, tire strategy sometimes determines victory or defeat. Muddy surfaces can sometimes be a good news for the drivers who start ahead; As more cars pass by, the road becomes more messy rather than cleaner; Hence the good news for Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä, who started first.
The official name of the Rally Greece is WRC EKO Acropolis Rally Greece. This race, which first started in 1951, is considered classic in the WRC. Rally Greece has been around since the beginning of WRC history in 1973, and in the early days it had a strong endurance rally-like nature, with the course length sometimes exceeding 800km. In addition to the 1974 race, which was canceled due to the oil shock, it was briefly moved to the ERC (European Rally Championship) in the 2000s due to the economic crisis in the country. Afterwards, it returned to the WRC in 2021, and last year, Hyundai showed a great performance by sweeping the podium.
According to the driver’s championship records, Colin McRae has the most wins with five; Since then, Walter Röhrl, Miki Biasion, Carlos Sainz and Sébastien Loeb have marked three wins each. Among the drivers so far, Thierry Neuville, Kalle Rovanperä, Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala have each won once. Among manufacturers, Ford marks 13 wins.
For this race, as Toyota and M-Sport Ford each prepared one more Rally 1 car, the number of Rally 1 entries increased to ten after the Safari Rally. Hyundai has three cars, with Dani Sordo replacing Teemu Suninen, who took part in both the Estonia and Finland rallies.
Hyundai, hoping to claim another podium sweep, included Neuville, Lappi, and Sordo on their list. Neuville, last year’s winner, marked consecutive second places in Estonia and Finland; He is currently in third, 36 points behind first-place Rovanpera and 11 points behind Evans in second. Sordo, who is returning after three races since the Kenya Rally, placed third in the Greek Rally last year and second in 2013. Although Lappi has a weaker record than his colleagues, he performed well last year for his team Toyota, rising to second place. He also once marked 4th place in the ERC.
Rovanpera, Elfyn Evans and Sébastien Ogier drive for Toyota again; The automaker prepared four Yaris race cars in total, including another for Takamoto Katsuta. Rovanpera still holds the top spot in championship points despite failing to score in the last Rally Finland due to a retirement. With Evans winning the Rally Finland, the last-minute competition between teammates for the title has intensified this season. The gap between the two racers is only 25 points.
Meanwhile, Ogier marked 5th in points with the most wins (3 wins) this season despite not joining this race. Once again, Ott Tänak and Pierre-Louis Loubet have joined for M-Sport Ford. And Jourdan Serderidis also returned to his home ground after a long absence; This is his fourth this season.
In WRC2, with the five drivers at the top of the points ranking table joining the race, many expected this to be an important race that will decide the championship title. WRC2 is WRC’s support class, and drivers can join in any race, but are not required to go through every single one. Each driver can apply for up to six races in Europe and seven overall, and the title will be decided based on the top five results. Each driver may decide which race points to submit. Currently, Andreas Mikkelsen is in the lead with 82 points. Although the score gap between Yohan Rossel (77 points) and Finland Rally winner Sami Pajari (71 points) is not large, Mikkelsen has a chance to earn more points as he has only participated in four races. Emil Lindholm, who recently joined the Hyundai team, is in 6th place with 62 points.
The service park was once again located in Lamia, about 220km northwest of Athens. As the storm Daniel struck central Greece on the 4th, it brought about the worst flood in the country’s history. The town hosting the WRC was fine, but still affected; Due to limited visibility and traffic issues, the recce was not carried out properly, and the shakedown test scheduled for Thursday morning was eventually canceled. The power stage scheduled for Sunday was also shortened by 10km, the highly difficult section of the course.
The race began at 6pm on Thursday evening at SSS1 (Plateia Nerou, 1.48km), southeast of Athens, across the Yacht Club and Water Square Park. The weather, which had made everyone nervous, cleared up quickly ahead of the start of the race, and at 6pm, when the pre-ceremony event was held in downtown Athens, it was only a little cloudy, but it became sunny as if it had never rained. In the gravel SSS1, Rovanpera recorded the top time, followed by the Hyundai trio of Lappi, Neuville and Sordo. Greece’s iconic tough stage began on Friday.
The race on Friday 8 September started near Loutraki, a beautiful resort west of Athens famous for its hot springs. If you cross the Corinth Canal, which was started by Roman Emperor Nero, you will be very close to Corinth, which is often mentioned in the Bible.
On this day, the drivers went through five 101.98km-long stages. The racers only repeated Loutraki (10.37km), and then Pissia, Livadia, and Elatia once each. The stage dried up quickly in sunny weather, but the heavy rain left numerous traces. Between stages, racers used sticks to remove mud from wheel wells. Meanwhile, Neuville won the opening stage and took the overall lead. Rovanpera, Ogier and Tanak recorded top times in the next stage, but Neuville still maintained the lead.
Like last year, this year’s course is a marathon section where no service is allowed, so drivers must get through the day with only tire changes and simple self-maintenance. If an accident occurred in the early morning or a car broke down, it would be catastrophic. To make things worse, even morning service was not allowed before the race. Loubet was the first to suffer; The water pump broke on Thursday evening but he could not get service the next morning. This made him waste the entire Friday race.
Lappi wasn’t so lucky either; His radiator was damaged on the rain-spoiled road. Lappi, who noticed the coolant warning light at the end of SS4, got water from a nearby restaurant and continued driving. Neuville, who was in the lead, was also not having the best of time; As his car’s rear differential had slip and he was unable to accelerate from low range, he held on by using the hand brake as much as possible.
At the end of Friday, Neuville, who was in the lead, and Ogier, who was behind him, were in a fierce battle with only 2.8 seconds separating them. However, Ogier also suffered from a lack of downforce as the upper rear wing flew off. Rovanpera and Evans were 3rd and 4th respectively, and both had to clean the road as it dried out quickly. Despite a damaged radiator, Lappi finished 5th, just 1 second behind Evans, while Sordo marked 7th overall. Tanak lost a lot of time on SS4 due to the same water pump problem that Loubet had.
On Saturday 9 September the race took place over three stages of a 141.52km-long route near the service park in Lamia. It was the longest day of the round; The opening course, the 24.25km-long SS7 Pavliani, was delayed by more than 30 minutes due to safety issues. In situations where road conditions change quickly, the starting order affects the driver’s mood. With Rovanpera recording the top time, Ogier overtook Neuville to take the overall lead. Katsuta misread the navigation and lost 30 seconds, which allowed Sordo to rise to 6th place. WRC2’s Nikolay Gryazin was penalized for being late, which also lifted Tanak from 9th to 8th.
The rivalry between Neuville and Ogier continued on Friday; At the 28.48km-long SS8 Karoutes, the longest of the round, Neuville returned to the lead by two seconds over Ogier, and at SS9 (Eleftherohori) the gap widened to 10.9 seconds. Sordo finished in 5th place after Lappi’s car went through a rock and suffered a flat tire, costing him about 2 minutes. Afterwards, Evans’ car lost speed due to engine overheating, and Sordo moved up to fourth.
Neuville, who was hoping to win again in Greece last year, was thwarted in SS10, a repeat of the Pavliani course; His car went through a puddle on the road and came to a halt with damage to the front offside suspension and steering. This put Ogier in the lead, Rovanpera in second, and Sordo in third. In SS11, Sordo allowed Evans to overtake him, allowing Toyota to take all 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions. Lappi struggled with generator and transmission problems, and Evans suffered a tire puncture at the end of the stage. Still, Katsuta was even more unlucky as he lost a lot of time due to two consecutive tire punctures.
At the end of Saturday, on SS12, veteran Ogier became the unluckiest person. Ogier, who easily took the lead thanks to Neuville’s retirement, was only able to finish the stage after needing emergency treatment for over two minutes due to a broken rear wheel. Rovanpera then took over the overall lead, while Sordo came in second, only five seconds behind third-place Evans. Tanak, who was pushed down to 32nd place at the beginning of the race, has now risen to 4th place.
Ogier dropped to 9th place after failing to arrive at evening service on time. Just like Neuville, his car also suffered damage to its front wheel at that point, and shortly afterwards lost its rear wheel at the hairpin. Even getting to the service park was difficult with a heavily damaged car. Meanwhile, in WRC2, Greensmith, who had a flat tire at the end of the final stage, was in the lead, followed by Mikkelsen and Yohan Rossel.
On Sunday, September 10th, the drivers started the race at the iconic Greek track Tarzan (23.37km) and finished the race by circling the Grammeni course. For safety reasons, Grammeni drastically reduced the front part of the course and shortened it to 9km. On the opening course, SS13 Tarzan, Evans recorded the top time and widened the gap with Sordo to 4 seconds. Rovanpera had some time to spare, so he took his time and saved tires for the power stage. SS14 Grammeni is also a rehearsal for the final power stage. This time Sordo was fastest; He edged Evans by 2.7 seconds. With Rovanpera almost certain to win, the battle for second place between Evans and Sordo was even more exciting.
But the final overtake never happened. Rovanpera took the Acropolis Rally championship trophy by winning the final stage. Rovanpera, who earned not only his third win of the season but also five bonus points, reached 200 points, further increasing his chances of winning the championship title. Evans finished the final stage in second place and did not allow Sordo to catch up, which forced Sordo to take the last place on the podium. Tanak finished in 4th place, Lappi finished in 5th place, and Katsuta finished in 6th place. In WRC2, Mikkelsen, Greensmith, and Rossel were 7th and 9th respectively, and Ogier was 10th - all of them managed to score points. Not only did Neuville not score, but he also failed to score any additional points in the power stage, behind Sordo and Lappi.
The next WRC round 11 will be held on the other side of the world, in South America. It will be held near Concepción, a port city in central Chile, from September 28 to October 1. Chile, which succeeded in becoming the 32nd WRC host country in 2019, is hosting for the second time this year; The year after the first event, it was halted due to nationwide protests and the subsequent pandemic.
By Sujin Lee, automobile critic
Excited about the 1991 establishment of the first domestic auto mania magazine 〈Car Vision〉, I sent a series of long letters there that led to an unexpected hire. After becoming an editor and the Editor-in-Chief for 〈Car Life〉 and 〈Car Vision〉, I have started a new career as an auto critic. My recent interests include cutting-edge techs like electric cars, connected cars, and autonomous driving, but the ‘otaku’, a maniac, in me, wants to keep internal combustion engines from extinction.
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
Pursuant to the Creative Commons License (CCL) 2.0, all users can copy, distribute, and transmit Information available on the Hyundai Motor Group Newsroom, or use it for exhibitions and performances. Please note, however, that all information is protected by copyright. Information users must use the information available on the Hyundai Motor Group Newsroom for strictly private/personal purposes only.HMG Operation Policy