One of the toughest tests in the FIA World Rally Championship – the Acropolis Rally – is awaiting the elite of rally racing next weekend (25–27 May). Gruelling heat and rocky mountain tracks are posing special challenges to “man and material” at this classic WRC round that will be held for the 59th time. This is exactly the ideal terrain for Volkswagen’s preparation on the road to its WRC entry with the new Polo R WRC in 2013.
In Greece the factory team will again be gathering experiences in the WRC process with two Fabia cars of the Group’s Škoda brand in the less powerful S2000 class. The driver duos at the event are the Frenchmen Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia and the Norwegians Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene.
“The Acropolis Rally is another important station in our preparation for the World Rally Championship with the Polo R WRC starting in 2013. Greece is one of the toughest events on the calendar and makes high demands on the technology and the teams. The experience we’re gathering will be an advantage for us next year,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “For me personally, this is the first WRC round as Volkswagen Motorsport Director and I’m very much looking forward to working with our team in rally racing conditions.”
Around the coastal town of Loutraki, about 80 kilometres west of Athens, 22 special stages covering a total of 409.47 kilometres are on the agenda. The sixth WRC round of the season is 1661.39 kilometres long including the liaison stages.
Extreme conditions often cause surprises
The rally is particularly notorious due to its special stages on tracks where the hard soil is often crisscrossed by rocks. This requires not only fast but, more importantly, intelligent driving. The driver with the highest speed or the best car has rarely clinched victory in Greece. The secret of success is in the right mix of speed and caution. The Acropolis Rally includes sections in which the drivers deliberately reduce their speed in order to protect the tyres in particular from the stones. In case of doubt, this costs less time than a tyre change that may be required due to a puncture. By the way, outside the specified service areas the drivers and co-drivers in the WRC have to change the tyres themselves.
Consequently, a car that holds up to these demands is the prerequisite for success. Due to the hard shocks from rocks and stones the suspensions and the under-floor have to be particularly robust. Plus at temperatures that typically are far above 30 degrees Celsius and in view of the low driving speeds the engine cooling is subjected to a special endurance test as well.
“After successful tests with the new Polo R WRC in Spain another WRC round is now coming up. I’m looking forward to returning to Greece. After all, the Acropolis Rally was one of five WRC rallies I won last year,” says the Frenchman Sébastien Ogier. “This time, though, the run will be about gathering as much experience and data as possible for our WRC entry in 2013. If it produced another S2000 class victory in the process then I’m sure nobody would mind.”
For his team mate Andreas Mikkelsen, this will be the first run in Greece. “Therefore, it’s particularly important for me to get to know the special stages and to gather as much experience as possible,” says the Norwegian. Yet he is not planning to take it easy at the event. “I’m determined to give my best and show my potential. Consequently, I’ll try and drive at a fast pace. Like the Rally Argentina, the Acropolis is considered a rally that’s very rough on the material. And with a more than 400-kilometre distance it’s also pretty long. You’ve basically got to switch into a sort of survival mode to keep from overtaxing the car.”