Let's hear what happened at the notoriously tough WRC Acropolis Rally straight from the metaphorical horse's mouth...
The Acropolis Rally is notoriously tough and torrid; featuring rocks the size of beach balls that are hot enough to fry an egg on. As privateer Skoda driver Eyvind Brynildsen put it at the end of the rally: “There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s hard to tell whether or not that’s the train coming towards you…”
The rally began with a ceremonial start on Thursday night in Athens - which was unfortunately where a load of riots happened to be taking place. “It’s going to be mud, sweat and tear gas,” was how one journalist put it.
Having managed to dodge the rubber bullets, Petter Solberg put the cat among the time sheets on Friday by completing SS2 a full 19 seconds faster than anybody else. “It's been a long time since anyone managed to win a stage by that much; it's true," said the Norwegian, who led overnight. “But that's just how I go: flat-out from start to finish. I don't believe in tactics or anything else like that. So I'm going to try to win from the front. I’ve tried playing the tactical game before and I’ve been shafted every time.”
“Sometimes if you want the top result you have to gamble."
Tactics were the name of the game though. Citroen’s Sebastien Ogier - who went on to win the rally - was one if the drivers to deliberately drop time on Friday night. “Sometimes if you want the top result you have to gamble,” he pointed out.
Not only did he get the time he discarded back on the following day; Ogier even took the lead after SS10. But controversy erupted on Saturday night when Ogier slowed down again to hand the lead back to his reluctant team-mate, in a surreal game of pass the parcel. Ogier was supplied with the split times from Sebastien Loeb on the final stage in order to judge his progress, but Loeb did not get a similar helping hand from his team. Cue fireworks.
“I wasn't angry with Ogier but I was angry that I didn't have the split times because I felt that the team was giving him an advantage,” said Loeb candidly after scoring his 100th podium in Greece. “It’s a pity that we didn’t win as I think we were the quickest on the rally. We were first on the road for two days and then second on the other day: it was a big, big disadvantage.”
Citroen boss Olivier Quesnel played down the talk of a rift between his two superstars though. “They’re both number ones and they’re both allowed to fight,” he said. “What do you expect?”
Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen was third after a trouble-free run in Greece, but felt that he could have gone quicker. “It’s frustrating, this makes three rallies in a row that we’ve been close but been beaten. That’s got to stop now.”
His co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen thinks that their season really starts on the next rally, located conveniently enough at home in Finland. “There’s no such thing as pressure in Finland,” said Lehtinen of the fastest and scariest event in the World Championship. “Just excitement.”