First and foremost, Sebastien Loeb is not taking part in this rally, unless he decides to join the spectators, or look for some gates on the stages, to close them for Sebastien Ogier. For the giggles, of course. But even without Loeb, situation is, potentially, very interesting, and there is no shortage of possible winners.
Ogier is, clearly, the favourite, but there is also one uncertainty about the Frenchman and the Volkswagen. For Greece, they will be using new handbrake system, to correct the issues both cars experienced in Argentina. Is the new system reliable enough? According to Volkswagen it is – they say it was thoroughly tested and is ready for the challenges of Greek gravel. If the car performs, and it did so far, bar the handbrake issue, Ogier will be hard to catch. His level of confidence is unmatched at the moment, and in rally, with confidence comes speed. Following that, Ogier gets World Rally Blog’s vote to win in Greece. Anything else is, more or less, wishful thinking – not because others lack the pace, but because they, in fact, do! Or if they don’t, they’ll find a way to throw the good result out the window.
For the remaining two spots on the podium, competition is pretty impressive. Jari-Matti Latvala in second Polo R WRC is keen to keep both feet on the podium, but his job will not be easy. Citroën’s Mikko Hirvonen is, let’s say, the more reliable one in the team at the moment, but even with his massive experience and good knowledge of the car, he is still regularly being threatened by the Qatar M-Sport’s bunch of talents.
In Greece, tyres will play the crucial role – and staying on all fours, without punctures, will decide on winners and losers. As we know, punctures can happen even if you’re not pushing hard, so any kind of advantage, no matter how massive, will not be big enough to allow for the loss of concentration.
But, who shall take the remaining two spots on the podium? WRB’s votes go to Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg, clearly the fastest of the Qatar M-Sport drivers. If Mads can keep his foot on the accelerator, but also remember to push on the brake pedal once in a while, he could well be the next favourite, and Ogier could be forced to earn his pay in Greece.
Dani Sordo would be on the podium in all of my predictions, and he regularly is, but… Would it be too much to ask for a smooth and controlled drive for the Spaniard? I hope not! Spanish Latvala should perhaps joing the Finnish Latvala’s “shout at yourself!” club, get bad things out of the system, and look for that speed and pace we know it’s there.
Regardless on who takes the top three positions, chances are we’ll be able to enjoy big fight lower down the field. Can Andreas Mikkelsen use the experience and knowledge he gained in his recent Polo outings, and show some of his IRC title winning speed? Oh, and before I forget – Evgeny Novikov ordered an extra double big pack of luck for Greece.
What everyone needs is a trouble free rally, and seeing this is Acropolis, we’re hoping in vain I’m afraid. Even in this, shorter guise, Greek event can still throw a punch at cars, tyres and crews, so it won’t be about the sheer speed. But again, it never is in this sport of ours, is it?