Full Rally Acropolis preview

Full Rally Acropolis previewFrom ERC media [ 25/03/2014 ].
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ERC aces target God-like status on the legendary Acropolis Rally There will be serious competition ahead when the legendary Acropolis Rally returns to the FIA European Rally Championship roster for the first time in almost 50 years next week (28-30 March).

While event base Loutraki on the banks of the Gulf of Corinth will be familiar to many, the switch to a mixed-surface format marks a return to past glories when sealed-surface sections were combined with the punishing gravel tracks that remain entrenched in Acropolis Rally folklore.

Day one of the Greek event (Saturday 29 March) will use Tarmac stages only with day two (Sunday 30 March) made up by the event’s more traditional gravel stages, with the exception of the all-asphalt superspecial in the town of Korinthos.

The change of format for the 60th running of the Acropolis Rally is the result of the event’s earlier-than-usual March date. To counter the prospect of some of the more mountainous gravel stages becoming unusable in the event of heavy rain or snow, organisers have added an all-Tarmac opening leg to the itinerary. This will be less susceptible to inclement weather, thereby avoiding the risk of stages having to be cancelled if conditions deteriorate.

Following Friday afternoon’s Qualifying Stage, which will be used to help determine the starting order for the ERC and FIA priority drivers, Saturday’s route takes in two loops of three high-speed asphalt stages south of Loutraki. At the completion of leg one, teams get 90 minutes to service their cars and convert them to gravel specification for the loose-surface second leg, which takes in two loops of gravel tests south and east of Loutraki, plus the all-asphalt Super Special Korinthos. Tyre engineers from ERC partners Michelin, Pirelli and Yokohama will be in attendance during the rally as they monitor the performance of their respective products on the first mixed-surface ERC qualifier of 2014.

As well as counting as round three of the overall ERC, ERC Production Car Cup and ERC 2WD Championship, drivers will be able to score ERC Asphalt Master points on leg one and ERC Gravel Master points on leg two as part of a new initiative for this season to recognise the achievements of surface specialists. In addition the event qualifies for the Greek national championship.

R5 era gets another boost
While the M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5, of which 50 have now been completed, is already a winner in the ERC, Peugeot’s 208 T16 will make its first competitive start in the championship in Greece having been trialled on last year’s Geko Ypres Rally. Kevin Abbring and Craig Breen will drive a brace of 208 T16s for Peugeot Rally Academy and will go up against the Fiesta R5s of Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Jourdan Serderidis.

ERC title battle takes centre stage
Two rounds into the new season and the race for the prestigious ERC title is already taking centre stage with Esapekka Lappi, 23, and Vasily Gryazin, 20, starting the Acropolis Rally just two points apart. Finn Lappi, who drives a factory ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000, won the last round in Latvia where he faced strong opposition from Russia’s Gryazin, who drives a Fiesta S2000 for Sports Racing Technologies.

Heroes return to ERC action
ERC event winners Bryan Bouffier and Bruno Magalhães will both be in action on the Acropolis Rally. Bouffier, in a Citroën DS3 RRC, will be gunning to avenge his early exit from Rally Liepāja last month, while Magalhães (Peugeot 207 S2000) is gearing up to tackle his first event away from Portuguese soil since 2011.

Emerging talents aim to build experience
Promising ŠKODA Fabia drivers Sepp Wiegand and Henk Lategan are among a number of Acropolis Rally entrants tackling the event for the first time. Wiegand, who competes under the ŠKODA AUTO Deutschland banner, was a strong fifth on his first ERC start of 2014 in Latvia last month, while Lategan is embarking on only his fourth event outside of his native South Africa having made his ERC debut in Croatia last season. The teenager is also teaming up with new co-driver Klaus Wicha for the first time.

Czech mates in the ERC
There will be a total of four drivers from Czech Republic contesting the international section of the Acropolis Rally. The quartet is Martin Hudec, Jaroslav Orsák, Jaromír Tarabus and Antonín Tlusťák. In addition to Bryan Bouffier, Robert Consani and Jean-Michel Raoux will be flying the French flag on the Greek event. Meanwhile, the Acropolis Rally will mark Italian Giacomo Costenaro’s ERC debut.

Class battles to be a highlight in Greece
The ERC Production Car Cup has attracted six entries with Mitsubishi Lancer pilots Vitaliy Pushkar, Tibor Érdi, Charalambos Timotheou and Martin Hudec among the leading contenders. ERC Ladies’ Trophy ace Ekaterina Stratieva will also be eligible for class points following her step up to a Subaru Impreza on Rally Liepāja. Ioannis Zounis from Greece is another driver relying on Subaru power.

Honda Civic Type R exponent Zoltán Bessenyey will face opposition from Alex Filip, Todor Slavov and Simone Tempestini as he bids to get his ERC 2WD Championship defence back on track following his leg-one retirement on the season-opener in Austria. Filip and Slavov are both armed with Renault Clio R3s, while Tempestini is Citroën DS3 R3T mounted.

FIVE FACTS

*Mixed-surface events are nothing new for Greek rounds of the ERC: the ELPA Rally used routes consisting of asphalt or gravel or a combination of the two in the past.
*British hero Roger Clark won the last Acropolis Rally to count for the ERC when he took his Ford Escort to victory in 1968, one year after Paddy Hopkirk triumphed in a Mini Cooper S.
*The late Colin McRae, who is honoured on each round of the ERC with the presentation of the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy, has won the Acropolis more times than any other driver with five victories to his name.
*Haris Kaltsounis will set a new record when he starts the Acropolis for the 31st time this year. The Greek driver, 65, is competing in an Opel Corsa Super 1600.
*The Peloponnese peninsula where the rally is based is effectively an island following the completion of the Corinth Canal in 1893, not that it’s ever referred to as such.

EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local)

Starts: 18:00hrs, Friday 28 March, Corinth Canal
Finishes: 17:16hrs, Sunday 30 March, Club Hotel Casino Loutraki
Headquarters: Club Hotel Casino Loutraki
Service park: Military Engineering School, Loutraki
ERC appearances: None since restructuring of the ERC in 2004. Last ran as an ERC event in 1968
Stages: 13
Stage distance: 238.84 kilometres (124.62 kilometres leg one, 114.22 kilometres leg two)
Liaison: 512.25 kilometres
Total: 751.09 kilometres
Surface: Leg one run on asphalt, leg two on gravel with the exception of the all-asphalt SS10

Acropolis entry list:
http://www.rallye-info.com/event_entrylist.asp?event=631

ERC Championship positions (non-official) before Acropolis:
http://irc.rallye-info.com/points.asp?sid=11

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