Solberg wins Acropolis Rally
6 June 2004
2003 World Rally champion, Petter Solberg has won the Acropolis Rally today [Sunday], taking victory by a comfortable 18.4 seconds.
The Norwegian was untroubled all day, despite a 30 second penalty last night for not having mudguards fitted to his car earlier in the day that halved his advantage, over then second placed driver, Harri Rovanpera.
'Hollywood' has now score points on every event this year, something that no other driver has achieved.
"It's fantastic, very, very good indeed! It's been a hard rally, and a tough fight, right from the start, but to get this result after the disappointment we had in Cyprus feels very good," said Solberg.
"You know it's hard work to keep adjusting the pace to keep position, but the team kept the split times coming in and everything worked perfectly today - there were no problems at all. The penalty didn't really affect me much, last night when I heard the decision I have to say I was a bit fed up, but when I woke up this morning I just laughed, it just seemed like a joke.
"I must say that the car is incredible, and the tyres, the mechanics, everyone in the team is working so well I can't thank them enough and it seems that for now anything is possible."
The battle for second went on all day, and Rovanpera looked set to take 'silver' until SS20, when Sebastien Loeb went in front, the Frenchman then maintained his position until the finish, when they were seperated by 9.9 seconds.
"We were fighting with Harri all the second day and since the beginning," said Loeb. "We knew we could be as fast as him but sometimes it was him, sometimes us, it was really a big battle, we had to push very hard from the start this morning, to the end this evening. Everything we could we gave it. I'm very happy to finish second."
Loeb's second place keeps him firmly in the lead of the drivers' championship, five points in front of Solberg. Citroen also now lead the manufacturers' standings.
Rovanpera was happy with third though, and Peugeot team boss, Corrado Provera reckoned it was his best rally ever.
"I'm pleased with this result, although I've not been entirely confident with the car throughout the three days of the event," commented Harri. "I didn't have a good feeling with the suspension over the bumps yesterday, and this morning was a little bit the same. The most important thing though is that the car is both reliable and fast, and we clearly have the pace to run at the front. I think we're in very good shape for the next rally in Turkey now, which I was leading last year, and I'm hoping for an even better result than the one here in Greece."
Francois Duval settled for fourth for Ford, to notch up his third points finish of the season, the Belgium had been in the running for second yesterday.
"It's been a good weekend," he reflected. "A podium would have been nice. We tried to match Rovanpera and Loeb early this morning but could not do it so we eased off and settled for fourth. We didn't want to take any risks and that tactic paid off. This is the first time I have finished the event in four starts. Today was especially hard because all the stages were new to me. But we have made improvements to our pace notes as well as driving quickly and that's good for the future."
Daniel Carlsson was the lead privateer, fifth overall, in his Bozian ran Peugeot 206 WRC, while Manfred Stohl was sixth, in another 206, with Janne Tuohino and Aris Vovos completing the top eight, and the last to score drivers' points.
Gilles Panizzi eventually finished tenth for Mitsubishi, engine problems in the final loop of tests dropping him down the order from sixth. He still scored manufacturers' points though, like Carlos Sainz, who came home 19th, after damper problems on the opening leg.
"Obviously this afternoon is disappointing for the engineers and mechanics, but I fought for them to bring the car to the finish," said Panizzi. "I am very happy to score manufacturer points for Mitsubishi. Our performance was obviously better than Cyprus and I'm happy to finish such a tough and hard event. I feel an upward trend."
In the Junior WRC, Guy Wilks took the victory for Suzuki, over 5 minutes up on Nicolas Bernardi, who was second. Only five 'Junior' contenders finished the event, Xavier Pons, Larry Cols and Olivier Marshall, third, fourth and fifth respectively.
In total 33 cars were classified at the finish, after 72 took part in the ceremonial start on Thursday.
A number of crews took advantage of the 'SupeRally' format, among them today, Marcus Gronholm, Markko Martin, Daniel Sola, Toni Gardmeister and Armin Schwarz - all but one of the works drivers who retired throughout the three-day event.
Reaction to the 'SupeRally' was mixed, Martin certainly made it clear he wasn't a fan, however for new teams and drivers, it was a bonus, allowing them to notch up more mileage and gain valuable experience.
Skoda boss, Martin Muehlmeier, who had both his drivers go out on day one, commented: "The first day of this rally started quite well for us. Toni was in a genuine sixth place and the performance gap to the leading competitors was exactly as we had expected. Unfortunately we suffered some reliability problems that were unexpected and we must address these so that we can be competitive on all three days. The SupeRally system enabled us to complete almost 450kms of extra testing that would not have been possible before. We were able to get results that would only have been possible in a competitive environment."
Sola also gave it the thumbs up: "The 'SupeRally' regulations were very important to me and the team here and we have gained a lot of knowledge and experience because of this."
Teams now move to Turkey for the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship and the last of a trio of hot, rough rallies.
Beginning on Thursday 24 June, the rally, which has been moved from its original February date is now in its second WRC year and will once again be based around a single service point in the holiday resort of Kemer. Crews will contest 383.33 competitive kilometres, over three Legs and 17 gravel stages, run over twisty mountain roads.