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Tactical win for Ogier in Greece

19 June 2011

Citroen ace Sebastien Ogier took a strategic win in Greece today to reignite his championship hopes.

Ogier, who eventually won the Acropolis Rally by 10.5 seconds, opted to play tactics in the final stage on Friday, easing off in the final test to ensure he started day two fourth on the road. That decision left Petter Solberg more than 50 seconds out front, but Ogier put in a charge on Saturday and took advantage of the cleaner and faster line to slash the gap to just 5.4 seconds following the morning loop.

In the afternoon the Frenchman then powered ahead and built a 15.1 second cushion over his team-mate, Sebastien Loeb, before then slipping back to second in the day's final test, SS13 - the night time run through Nea Politia.

At the start of Sunday, Ogier was 2.2 seconds behind Loeb, but running second in the order he had the better road position again and he eventually pulled out a 10.5 second cushion on the repeat-run through Aghii Theodori 2 and New Pissia 2. Going into the Power Stage he had the victory pretty much in the bag and unlike in Argentina last time out, he didn't disappoint.

Indeed he swept through to not only take the 25 points for the win, but also the maximum 3 points for the Power Stage. The result sees him close up on Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen in the drivers' title race, and he is now just 5 points off Mikko in P2 and 22 off Loeb – down from 30 points prior to this weekend's seventh round in the 2011 World Rally Championship.

“It was a very good rally for me and this has been a perfect weekend,” Ogier said. "At the beginning it was difficult to find the rhythm. Yesterday in the second loop we drove fast, we pushed and now we have a great result.

“Two times this weekend we slowed down. Tactics is part of rallying however and the differences between the drivers are so close that you have to look for every chance. It is good to put the disappointment of Argentina behind me. The championship is still possible.”

Loeb meanwhile was reasonably content with the runners-up spot, although he felt he had been hindered having to play the 'road sweeper' on days one and three. Despite that though, he still increases his lead in the drivers' championship, extending his margin over Hirvonen from 13 points to 17.

“It's been a great battle. It was frustrating not to win though because I think we were the fastest on this rally,” Loeb said. “We cleaned the road for two days: on the first and third days and for sure this was a disadvantage.”

Mikko Hirvonen completed the podium for the Ford Abu Dhabi Word Rally Team, overhauling Petter Solberg in the very first test this morning. He then proceeded to pull away and finished 25.3 seconds up on the Norwegian – and only 3 seconds behind Loeb in P2.

“It was a great fight and I took big risks today to try to close the gaps, driving over every bank and rock,” Hirvonen said. “There's no way I would have survived all three days driving like that! It's the second consecutive rally though where I've lost a final day battle by a handful of seconds and that's frustrating.”

Solberg was also disappointed, especially given how good things had looked at the end of Friday when he had a 51.6 second advantage. Sadly though, the Norwegian was unable to hold off the 'works' Citroen's and Hirvonen's works Ford on days two and three.

“I don't know why we lost,” 'Hollywood' lamented. “I tried hard and did everything I could. I am still happy with my driving. All the team worked very well and fourth place is better than fifth. It looked good on Friday. But there was nothing else we could do. A private team is always a private team.”

Further back Petter's brother Henning took fifth - and his best result of the season on his return to the fold after he skipped Argentina to sort sponsorship issues. Although he was more than 4.5 minutes off P4, he was still pleased.

“I am very happy with my position. I just hoped to come back today and drive to the finish with no problems and that has been the case so that is good. We have had our share of bad luck at times, mostly with the brakes yesterday but the car worked very well on Friday and for today,” Henning noted.

“I've also been awarded the Spirit of the Rally award which I'm very pleased about. It just feels great to be back in the WRC and we hope to come back even stronger for the second half of the year.”

Henning's M-Sport Stobart Ford team-mate, Matthew Wilson was next up and took sixth, 1.5 minutes further back, despite problems with an intermittent misfire: “I was a bit frustrated with the problems,” he conceded, “But this is how it is with a rough rally like this. It was very good that we got the points. It would just have been nice to have a clean run yesterday.”

F1 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen came in seventh and considering his last WRC event was back in mid-April, he put in a very solid drive – setting eleven top-ten stage times in total in his Citroen DS3 WRC.

“We did a good job,” said Kimi. “It was our first time here. The first day we had a puncture and the differential problem. Otherwise we had no problems. I liked the rally and I am now looking forward to my home event.”

Of the rest Juho Hanninen was eighth and also took the SWRC win, almost 5 minutes up on Bernardo Sousa, his closest class rival. Jari-Matti Latvala and Dennis Kuipers rounded out the top ten, the former slowed by transmission problems in the final stage on Friday and then turbo problems on Saturday morning.

“It was a hard weekend, but despite my technical troubles, I finished in the points and I'm relieved to be here,” Latvala reflected. “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.”

In terms of retirements, the Acropolis claimed a number of scalps, including WRC runners Federico Villagra and Peter van Merksteijn Jr, the former stopping in the penultimate test today due to an engine problem, while the latter crashed out in SS3. Mads Ostberg and Evgeny Novikov also had problems, but both managed to get to the finish under the SupeRally, finishing 12th and 20th respectively.

The WRC now pauses for a mid-season break before resuming with Rally Finland, which runs from July 28-30.


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