Lambros Athanassoulas took an emotional win on the Acropolis Rally of Greece at the weekend, the sixth round in the 2009 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship.
The 32-year-old from Loutraki had only driven his Skoda Fabia S2000 for the first time a few days before the start of the event, but set out to impress existing and potential sponsors with an eye on a full P-WRC campaign in 2010 - and beat the world's best in the process.
He immediately raised eyebrows too when he set the second fastest time on SS1 - even though he thought he'd picked up a puncture - and then took the lead on SS2. He maintained his advantage during the opening day, even though his Skoda was over-steering.
Despite a small off two corners from the end of SS9, he had established a 49.9 second lead on Saturday before a misfire on SS11 allowed Nasser Al-Attiyah to close and then take the P-WRC led on SS12.
With his car fixed, Athanassoulas fought back and thrilled his local fans by re-taking the lead on the final leg. He went into the last stage just 9.6 seconds ahead, but not only did he hold his nerve, he also increased his winning margin to 22.3 seconds.
“Winning here means so much to me! It is a dream come true and I really have no words to describe this feeling,” he reflected. “I am so happy I can cry. Yesterday we had a minor problem that dropped us to second place, but we fought back this morning to take back the place that was ours.
“We worked so long and so hard for this, and I believe the key to our win was our performance on the first day of this rally. I need to thank so many people, my team, my sponsors and my brother who is also my team manager. I really can't say thank you enough times!”
Al-Attiyah's main priority meanwhile was to outscore his title rivals - and although he'd have rather collected ten points for a win, he wasn't going to throw away eight points by risking second place on the final stage.
It was far from a trouble-free run though for him, as he had to use all his experience to ensure his Barwa Rally Team Impreza reached the finish. Overheating problems on Friday cost some time, but it was a bent steering rack on day two which was ultimately the difference between first and second.