ACROPOLIS RALLY: Pirelli Star Driver Mark Tapper (NZ, Mitsubishi) kept in the middle of the road and out of trouble to finish his first day on
the Acropolis Rally in 9th place in P-WRC. He spun on SS8 and had to wait for the dust to settle before he could see where to go
again, and more time was lost in the same stage when his Lancer broke a shock absorber and a damaged exhaust
reduced the power. He eventually stopped on SS11 when the steering arm and driveshalft broke – possibly as a result of
damage sustained when he went off the road on the previous stage. His first rally in Greece proved invaluable experience,
as he completed the event in 9th.
Mark Tapper said: “This has been a tough rally. People had told me before the event what was coming, but you never fully understand until you actually get there and see if for yourself. On Friday, I didn’t think it was too bad, the roads weren’t too rough. At times, I actually thought the roads were quite similar to those at home in New Zealand; nice, fast and flowing, we were really enjoying those. But then on Saturday, it was tough, incredibly tough. The Acropolis Rally certainly lulled me into a false sense of security. When we got into the second run of the stages on Saturday, I realised the way to get through was to take it really steady and not try to force the pace. I thought I was driving slow enough, but we suffered a broken driveshaft and steering arm in stage 11 and that was that. That second day of the event was an absolute killer. We returned on the final day and things went well, I don’t think the roads were quite as rough as they had been on Saturday.”
Emotional Lambros shows his P-WRC potential with victory in Greece
A brilliant drive saw an emotional Lambros Athanassoulas (GR, Skoda) win another exciting battle in the FIA
Production Car World Rally Championship on the Acropolis Rally of Greece. Co-driven by Nikolaos Zakheos, the 32-year
old driver 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. Athanassoulas wonderful performance was recognised when he received the Abu Dhabi Spirit
of the Rally Award.
The fight for the P-WRC title will go down to the wire, as three drivers remain in contention. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT,
Subaru) finished 2nd in Greece and is just four points ahead of Armindo Araújo (P, Mitsubishi). Both drivers will next
contest Wales Rally GB, although Eyvind Brynildsen (N, Mitsubishi), who did not enter the Acropolis Rally, still has a
chance of winning the title, as he has dominated both the remaining rounds (Australia and GB) and can potentially gain
Athanassoulas raised P-WRC eyebrows 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 oversteering and set-up changes were to improve the car for the following morning. Despite a small off two
corners from the end of SS9, he had established a 49.9 second lead before a misfire on SS11 allowed Al-Attiyah to close
and then take the P-WRC led on SS12. With his car fixed, Athanassoulas continued to thrill his local fans by retaking the
lead on Day 3 and go into the final stage just 9.6 seconds ahead. Not only did he hold his nerve, he increased his winning
margin to 22.3 seconds as a tearful winner celebrated a remarkable achievement.
As Athanassoulas was a guest P-WRC driver, Al-Attiyah’s main priority was to outscoring his title rivals – and although
he’d have rather collected 10 points for a win, he wasn’t going to throw away eight points by risking 2nd place on the final
stage. It was far from a trouble-free run, as Al-Attiyah had to use all his experience to ensure his Barwa Rally Team
Impreza reached the finish. Overheating problems on Day 1 cost some time, but it was a bent steering rack on Day 2
which was ultimately the difference between 1st and 2nd. Having hit a large rock just over half way through SS8, he
struggled to keep the car in a straight line for the remaining 10kms. Well rehearsed running repairs allowed Al-Attiyah to
continue and at the end of the day less than 10 seconds separated the top three going into the final day of competition.
Al-Attiyah led going into the final day, but when Athanassoulas took 11.9 seconds off him on SS14, the five times FIA
Middle East Rally Champion decided 2nd, on this occasion, was good enough.
A confident Armindo Araújo (P, Mitsubishi) pushed very hard in Greece, driving flat-out and taking risks as he
considered this a “now or never” situation in his title bid, as he arrived in Greece two points behind Al-Attiyah. The 31-
year old from Santo Tirso set the fastest time on the opening stage, but lost the lead after adjusting the dampers and
making the set-up slightly too soft. Easing off on the roughest sections was essential to keep his Lancer intact, although
the flying Araújo found anything less than maximum attack very frustrating. Despite losing time driving half of SS12 with a
broken rear right wheel, he ended Day 2 in 3rd – and very much in contention for victory, as the top three were
separated by just 9.9 seconds. The team decided to charge a lot of things in preparation for the final day, but they were
to live to regret this as the car’s set-up was too soft. From setting a P-WRC winning pace, the car now struggled to cope
with the rough terrain and with it bottoming out, Araújo had to ease off to ensure a 3rd place finish and the six points
which keep his title hopes very much alive.