Rally Greece Stobart Preview.
FIA World Rally Championship

BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, 31May-3 June 2007

Event Preview

Next week the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team head to Greece for the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, round eight of the FIA World Rally Championship. The team currently lies third in the Manufacturers’ Championship heading into the 54th running of this historical event.

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila surprised everyone during Rally d’Italia Sardegna by leading the event at the midway point of leg 1, a career-first for the Finnish pair and the Stobart team. Unfortunately broken suspension ruined Latvala’s hope of a maiden WRC podium but, with the form he showed, heads may turn again come next weekend.

After a successful outing in Sardinia last week, Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud have moved up to equal fifth in the drivers’ standings just eight points off fourth position. Team-mates Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr also improved on their speed only to be denied a fantastic result by mechanical issues and broken suspension on their Ford Focus RS WRC06 which forced the pair to retire from leg 2.

The BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally is an event renowned for taking its toll not only on cars, but competitors as well. A combination of fast and twisty, mountainous stages and a boulder-filled, rough, gravel surface challenges durability of vehicles which are developed extra-sturdy for this testing event.

Temperatures in the past have risen as high as 50 degrees Celsius creating a demanding effect on competitor fitness as well as the cooling systems of World Rally Cars though the slower, twisty sections. Hydration is essential here as competitors can lose several kilos over just one stage, many carry larger fluid hydration packs and extra water to cope with the very hot and humid conditions.

With a new base at the Olympic Equestrian Centre at Markopoulo - 30 kilometres south-east of Athens centre - Rally HQ, Service Park and a new gravel super special stage inside the stadium are all conveniently located together. Almost half of the rally’s 334 kilometres are completely new, once again signifying the importance of experience and an accurate reconnaissance for crews.

In 2003 Latvala became the youngest person to drive for a manufacturer team, when he steered a Ford Focus RS to tenth overall on the Acropolis Rally, as a works-entrant for the Ford Motor Company. Since then the 22-year-old has taken on the Greek roads two more times, finishing the event last year sixth in the Production WRC category and 22nd outright.

Solberg knows the challenges that the Acropolis Rally can bring all-too-well. In 2005 he had a large accident which ended his event campaign but followed up last year to finish fifth overall; just over one minute away from a podium spot.

Wilson, Britain’s top hope for the future, has only competed here once, in 2006, where he finished in the top-ten driving for the Stobart team; even though his body’s energy was drained by a bout of food poisoning for the duration of the event. The Cumbrian driver will be looking to go one better, aiming for more points, after success in Mexico earlier this year.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:

"I’m really looking forward to the next rally in Greece and once again we have a good starting position for the first day. After leading my first ever rally in Sardinia the feeling with the car is really good and I feel confident on this surface now. We know that the car is strong, fast and reliable; this is really important as it is one less thing for me to worry about. I have experience of this event from last year when I was competing in the Production WRC and my times were quite good even though I was competing with a bandage on my arm from an earlier accident.I finished Sardinia on a high with top times and I would like to carry this on into Greece and get some more points."

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
"The last rally was a big step forward for me, it was one of my best-ever events, and the feeling with the car is now the best I have had. The final day’s stages in Sardinia had a similar surface to what we will see in Greece and the car felt great on that type of road; I even set two fastest times on the last day so it was all really working well for me. I have competed in Greece a few times before and know that it is a very difficult event, and tough on the car, but I intend to push quite hard; I need to build on the improvements we made in Sardinia now. The car and my driving have improved and I’m really excited about this rally."

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
"Last year Greece was a very difficult event for me, I had really bad food poisoning during the entire rally; but I still managed to finish tenth overall. I’m looking forward to the event this year, however, as we have just come from Sardinia, a similar rough gravel event, and the car and my pace-notes both felt really good there. The Focus is a strong car and copes well with the tough conditions on these types of events. Sardinia was a very good event for me and I’m happy that Greece is quite close as we will be able to keep the momentum going and push forward with what we have learnt over the last few weeks."

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
"After fantastic team efforts in both Argentina and Sardinia, where the team collected high manufacturer points hauls, it would be great to repeat this performance in Greece. All three crews are gaining massively in confidence now and have all had probably their best performances in recent weeks; so for Greece the plan is to basically try and do the same. This is a very tough and demanding event and it will be very important to concentrate on finishing the rally without any problems. If they can do this then, for sure, it will be another great individual and team result."

Event Information
Date: 31 May–3 June 2007
Round: 8 of 16 FIA World Rally Championship
Based: Markopoulo Mesogaias, Greece
Stage surface: Gravel
Total distance: 1572.33km
Stage distance: 334.44km
Number of stages: 21
Longest stage: 48.88km (stages 10+14)
Highest elevation on stage: 970 metres (on stages 4+8)
Permanent Service Park: Olympic Equestrian Centre-Athens Racing Centre, Markopoulo
Shakedown Stage: 2.51km long, at a location 5km south-east of the service park
Official Start: 18:50 Thursday 31 May at Olympic Equestrian Centre-Athens Racing Centre
Superspecials: three (stages 1+17+23)
Leg one: Thursday 31 May. Cars starting SSS1, Hippodrome 1 at 19:00, tackling 120.86km
Leg two: Saturday 2 June. Cars starting SS10, Agii Theodori 1 at 09:03, tackling 146.08km
Leg three: Sunday 3 June. Cars starting SS18, Avlonas 1 at 07:33, tackling 90.38km

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