Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has triumphed on the Acropolis Rally of Greece and he even had time to stop and change a puncture on the final day en-route
to his third win in Greece and his fourth victory of the season.
Loeb trailed Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala early on, but moved to the front in SS4 on Friday, when the Finn overshot a junction. Seb then pulled out a 10.1 second lead on the middle loop and while he more or less maintained that margin in SS7 and SS8, he conceded 3.7 seconds in SS9, ending the first day with a 6.5 second advantage.
On Saturday morning, Loeb came under more pressure from Latvala, with the Finn cutting the gap to just 2.2 seconds. However in the afternoon Latvala made a mistake in SS14 and hit a bank. That incident left him with puncture and he lost over 3 minutes, dropping him back to fourth. Latvala's team-mate Petter Solberg then took up the challenge and with torrential rain transforming the rocky roads into a mud bath, 'Hollywood' went on the attack, winning the final three tests on day two and reducing the gap to Loeb from 21.9 seconds to just 10.2 seconds.
This morning Solberg was keen to keep pushing, but he hit a tree around 13 kilometres into the first test of the day and ripped off the left-rear wheel. Although Solberg and co-driver Chris Patterson were unhurt, they were not able to continue. Loeb was thus left with a commanding lead and despite having to stop to change a puncture in SS20 he had enough in hand to still win, 40 seconds up on his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen.
Loeb also set the pace in the event ending Power Stage as well, to take the maximum 28-point haul from the weekend, extending his lead in the drivers' championship from 18 points to 30.
“This rally was so long and difficult. We had some fortune in the morning, but in general we had to fight really hard,” Loeb said. “It was really good. I tried to always keep my rhythm and do what I felt. I tried to manage the car and the tyres. I believe that everybody has done a great rally, Mikko, Petter and Jari-Matti.”
Hirvonen meanwhile put in a very solid performance to secure the runners-up spot, and while he was pleased with the result, he was less happy with his pace.
“Realistically the speed was not great this weekend,” he confirmed. “I learned a lot from this rally though and it was a great result for the team. The team did a fantastic job with the car. I believe I can be faster than this.”
Jari-Matti Latvala secured the final spot on the rostrum and apart from his crucial mistake on Saturday had a great event on his return from injury: “I have to be satisfied because I am on the podium, but still I am disappointed because I could have win,” the Finn reflected.
“Also in the Power Stage, I thought I drove well, but still Loeb was quicker. Speed is not a problem against Sebastien, but when things get really close, he seems to be able to analyze the situation and push hard without mistakes. He is very clever - and I have to improve on that.”
Behind, Mads Ostberg took another good result with fourth and as he will sit out the next round in New Zealand he was pleased to score good points: “It was very tough, of course, but our strategy paid off. The rally was rougher this year, but it worked better for us. I am quite happy because we showed we had a great strategy,” said the Adapta WRT man.
Martin Prokop was next up and completed the top five, while Thierry Neuville was sixth for the Citroen Junior WRT.
“It was a good weekend and important for our experience. The rhythm was strange but it's okay. We completed the rally. I hope in New Zealand we can push a little bit more. I want to learn. I want to be a world champion one day and we are working on it,” remarked the Frenchman after SS22.
Further back, Sebastien Ogier was seventh in his VW Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia S2000, with Ford Regional Rally Car runner Yazeed Al-Rajhi a good eighth. Ott Tanak took advantage of the Rally 2 regulations to re-start after his off on Friday to claim ninth place and two championship points, while Abdulaziz Alkuwari took the final WRC point in his Seashore Qatar WRT MINI John Cooper Works WRC car, ahead of Armindo Araujo, Spyros Pavildes, Yuriy Protasov and Valeriy Gorban in positions 11 through to 14, the latter winning the PWRC class.
Gorban had trailed Nicolas Fuchs by over 4 minutes at the end of day two, but the Peruvian was forced out on the final loop today, retiring in SS21 with suspension damage. Gorban thus inherited the PWRC class win, finishing over 3 minutes up on Subhan Aksa. Ricardo Trivino was third.
In the other support category, the WRC Academy, Elfyn Evans took his maiden win, 2 minutes 15.9 seconds up on Alastair Fisher.
As for retirements, in addition to Solberg, the Acropolis also claimed the scalps of a number of other runners, most noticeably Evgeny Novikov, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Andreas Mikkelsen. All three rejoined this morning under Rally 2, but none of them made it passed SS18. Al-Attiyah rolled, while Mikkelsen broke a wheel and Novikov was forced to stop due to mechanical gremlins.
The WRC now heads to New Zealand next, with that event running from June 22-24.
To view the result for the 2012 Acropolis Rally of Greece - CLICK HERE