Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera dominated the proceedings in WRC Acropolis Rally from Hyundai’s Ott Tanak and Sebastien Ogier.
Kalle Rovanpera led EKO Acropolis Rally Greece on Friday night after an enthralling day which could prove decisive in the outcome of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Three different drivers fought for supremacy during the first full day of competition in the Acropolis’ first WRC appearance since 2013. The trio were blanketed by just 3.9sec after a gruelling day on rocky gravel mountain tracks.
The 20-year-old Finn, driving a Toyota Yaris, ended 3.7sec clear of Ott Tänak’s Hyundai i20, with championship leader Sébastien Ogier two-tenths further back in another Yaris. It was a miserable day for Ogier’s title rivals. Elfyn Evans, second in the points, drove all but the opening speed test with his Yaris jammed in gear and lost almost five minutes. Thierry Neuville, who is tied with Evans, lost nearly six minutes with broken power steering.
Both languished near the bottom of the top 20. Rovanpera won two of the five rugged special stages as the rally threaded up the country following Thursday’s spectacular start in Athens. After a cautious opening test when the Greek debutant focused on understanding the tyre wear on the rocky roads, he demoted Ogier and was never headed.
Tanak was never comfortable. His car’s engine stalled on several occasions in the twisty morning sections and an overheating damper added to his woes. Ogier briefly slipped into second but was relegated again in the final test. Third was well beyond the Frenchman’s expectations after opening the roads and sweeping dusty gravel from the line to leave more grip for those behind.
Dani Sordo was 20.0sec further adrift in an i20. The Spaniard incurred a 10sec penalty for a jump start but had half a minute in hand over Adrien Fourmaux’s Ford Fiesta in fifth. Gus Greensmith completed the top six after a troubled day which included a spin, a puncture and a leaking suspension damper in his Fiesta. It was a disappointing day for Pierre-Louis Loubet.
A jump start penalty and two punctures were a pre-cursor to broken steering just before the end of the final stage. He limped to the finish but went no further. Support category drivers filled the rest of the leaderboard. WRC2 leader Marco Bulacia held seventh in a Skoda Fabia with championship leader Andreas Mikkelsen 5.4sec behind. WRC3 leader Chris Ingram was ninth with Kajetan Kajetanowicz 10th.
Kalle Rovanpera charged into a half-minute lead after a remarkable debut display at WRC EKO Acropolis Rally Greece on Saturday. The 20-year-old, who scored his maiden FIA World Rally Championship victory in Estonia two months ago, was on course for his second after a blistering turn of speed on rocky mountain roads in central Greece.
Friday’s enthralling opening leg left Rovanpera, Ott Tanak and Sebastien Ogier blanketed by 3.9sec overnight. But the Finn won the first four of today’s six speed tests in the Fthiotida mountains south of Lamia to build a lead of almost 40sec in his Toyota Yaris.
He eased his pace slightly in this afternoon’s two repeat stages, in which the surface was rougher in places and polished in others, to end the longest day of this ninth round with a 30.8sec advantage over a duelling Tanak and Ogier. Rovanpera, competing in Greece for the first time, was fortunate to escape when the rear of his Yaris slid into a ditch in the morning’s Bauxites stage.
Tanak distanced Ogier with second fastest time in each of the first three tests, but slipped back into the Frenchman’s clutches with a lacklustre drive in the next. The margin plunged to 2.5sec but set-up changes allied with softer compound Pirelli tyres enabled the Estonian to widen the gap to 9.4sec in his Hyundai i20.
Ogier was unconcerned. With nearest title rivals Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville still climbing the order after problems yesterday, the reigning champion knows a podium in his Yaris would further enhance his 38-point lead. Dani Sordo was a lonely fourth in an i20. The Spaniard struggled to find a set-up with which he was comfortable and an error-free day placed him almost 90sec adrift of Ogier and nearly 70sec ahead of Adrien Fourmaux’s Ford Fiesta.
Fourmaux dropped time after nosing into a roadside barrier but the Frenchman stayed ahead of team-mate Gus Greensmith, who conceded a handful of seconds with a spin. The margin between the M-Sport Ford duo was 15.8sec.
Evans climbed from 16th to seventh in his Yaris after yesterday’s transmission troubles. The Welshman headed WRC2 leader Marco Bulacia, who overhauled Skoda Fabia team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen in the closing stage. They were separated by eight-tenths. Neuville regained ground after yesterday’s power steering problems, climbing to 10th in his i20.
Twenty-year-old Kalle Rovanpera landed his second FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) event win on Sunday afternoon after dominating EKO Acropolis Rally Greece. The Finn led for virtually the entire four-day fixture on rocky mountain roads in central Greece to win by 42.1sec in a Toyota Yaris. The victory came two months after he became the youngest WRC winner in history in Estonia.
Ott Tanak finished second in a Hyundai i20 after a late scare, with championship leader Sébastien Ogier driving a measured rally to finish third in another Yaris, a further 29.2sec back. The Frenchman extended his points lead to 44 with three rounds remaining. Rain in the run-up made conditions unpredictable on the rally’s WRC return after an eight-year absence. Rugged gravel tracks were interspersed with muddy sections that failed to dry, ensuring unpredictable driving and difficult tyre choices.
Rovanpera took the lead in the third speed test on Friday morning and was never headed. He, Tanak and Ogier were covered by 3.9sec on Friday night but a blistering turn of speed on Saturday delivered four straight stage wins and carried him almost 40sec clear. He managed his advantage through the remaining stages and sealed a perfect weekend with maximum bonus points for winning the Wolf Power Stage.
Rovanpera and Ogier increased Toyota Gazoo Racing’s lead at the top of the manufacturers’ standings to 57 points over Hyundai Motorsport. Tanak never felt comfortable but was glad to accept second after final day electrical issues. His car then refused to fire up ahead of the closing stage. It eventually started, with smoke clearly visible, and he completed the test with no further dramas.
With closest title rivals Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans plunging down the order after first day problems, Ogier was content with a risk-free approach that further strengthened his bid to secure an eighth WRC title.
Dani Sordo was almost two minutes further back in fourth in another i20, the Spaniard frustrated at not being on podium pace. He had nearly three minutes in hand over Gus Greensmith, who moved ahead of Ford Fiesta team-mate Adrien Fourmaux.
Fourmaux incurred a three-minute penalty when his car would not start before Sunday’s opening stage. A spark plug change solved the issue and although he moved ahead of Evans in the penultimate stage, a final test spin dropped him behind again to seventh.
Evans salvaged sixth after opening day transmission troubles in his Yaris, with Neuville recovering to eighth after losing time with damaged power steering. WRC2 winner Andreas Mikkelsen and Marco Bulacia completed the leaderboard in ninth and 10th.
Here’s the full WRC Acropolis Rally result: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
[Note: The above is as per the press release from WRC]