The unstoppable Sebastien Loeb has proved that once again after he won the 2012 Acropolis Rally by 40 seconds from his Citroën teammate Mikko Hirvonen.
While the end result makes it look like it was a dominant weekend for the Citroën team, that wasn’t really the case. Loeb started the final day just 10 seconds ahead of Ford driver Petter Solberg and a battle for the win loomed. However, Solberg, needing to apply the pressure, made an error and crashed out on the day’s opening stage. So, later in the day on SS20 when Loeb was slowed by a puncture he was able to remain reasonably calm.
Hirvonen had settled for third place in his mind, but was promoted to second place after Solberg’s retirement. It’s the third one-two victory for the Citroën team this year and it’s no surprise to see they enjoy a 73pt lead in the manufacturers’ championship.
Meanwhile, Loeb’s fourth win of the year has helped him to a 30pt lead over Hirvonen in the race for the drivers’ title. Incredibly, the win in Greece is Loeb’s 71st career victory in the WRC.
“We managed this race well, despite the constant pressure we were put under by our rivals,” said Loeb. “I never lost my cool at any point, even when we got a puncture, because I knew we would still have enough of a lead.”
You can read Citroën’s official account of the Acropolis Rally below. The WRC heads south for its next event, Rally New Zealand on 22–24 June.
Citroen slides to victory in Greece with a 1-2 win for Loeb and Hirvonen
Usually renowned for its heat, dust and rocks, a wet and muddy World Rally Championship Rally of Greece at the weekend (24-27 May 2012) saw Citroen score its third 1-2 win of the season as the French team’s rivals slid out of contention, allowing Greek victor Sébastien Loeb and Citroen to strengthen their leads in the chase for the 2012 WRC titles and Loeb’s team mate, Mikko Hirvonen, to move into second place in the driver’s title chase.
The Acropolis Rally got underway on Thursday evening last week with a single 25km-long stage. Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen got into their stride quickly, setting the second and third fastest times in the opening stage ahead of Friday’s long leg, which took the competitors to Itea.
At 25.24km long, the Kineta stage served up a significant first test for the leading contenders. In second place, 2.8s adrift of Jari-Matti Latvala, Sébastien Loeb seemed fairly pleased with his performance:
“Everything went well, the road was completely dry and we made the best choice in going for the Michelin Latitude Cross hard tyres. I’d rather be two or three seconds ahead than behind, but there’s nothing in it. We just had to get to the end of the stage without making any mistakes.”
In third place, 7.1s behind his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen assessed the cost of having to sweep the loose gravel:
“Although I was tenth out on the road, I could see that the racing line still wasn’t completely swept. I think there were only one or two cars ahead of me that drove on the line that I would like to take. As a result, I lost a bit of time to the top two.”
A long and intense day of competition, day two of the Acropolis Rally saw a non-stop battle between the leading four contenders. Although by no means unbeatable, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena gained the upper hand over their rivals. The eight-time World Champions hold a
6.5s lead over the second-placed crew. Despite losing time on the day’s final stage, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen still have every chance of securing a podium finish for the Citroën Total World Rally Team’s second DS3 WRC.
After Thursday evening’s single stage, the Acropolis Rally competitors were faced with a genuine test of their determination on Friday. The day lasted over 16 hours, 706km long with 169km of timed stages, adding up to close to 2hrs 15mins spent taking on mountain roads which were still sodden after the heavy rain that had fallen overnight.
At 6.53am, the first drivers set off on the Aghia Marina stage. The gloves were off immediately between the WRC’s top drivers: Loeb, Hirvonen, Latvala and Solberg. Sébastien Loeb set three second fastest times to take the lead after SS4, while Mikko lost his third place to Petter Solberg.
After a quick stop off at the remote service park located in the port of Itea, the scrap for supremacy continued to be just as intense on the foothills of Mount Parnassus. Mikko Hirvonen and then Sébastien Loeb stepped up their pace to claim stage wins on Bauxites 1 (SS5) and Drossohori (SS6) respectively. This double performance enabled Seb to stretch his overall lead to 10s and Mikko to take back third place from Solberg.
Another stop in Itea provided the crews with a short breather before taking on the final stretch. Sébastien Loeb held off Latvala to make it back to Loutraki as leader. Although he only managed one stage win today, the eight-time World Champion amassed eight second fastest times, four of which were less than a second behind the pace-setter!
“Today was a tricky day to negotiate,” said a relieved Sébastien Loeb on his return to the shores of the Corinthe. “In addition to being a long leg, the road conditions also made our job more complicated. Some sections were totally dry, others were covered in mud. We ran the entire day on Michelin Latitude Cross hard ‘H1’ tyres, which worked pretty well in all of the conditions. I really enjoyed scrapping for tenths of a second with Mikko, Jari-Matti and Petter throughout the day;
it’s been a while since we’ve raced like that!”
Mikko Hirvonen, however, lost significant ground on Thiva 2 (SS9). Unsighted due to the dust thrown up by the car in front of him, he couldn’t avoid picking up a puncture which meant he lost 24s in one go. Still fourth overall, 31.9s adrift of Solberg, Mikko has by no means given up the fight at the half-way point of the rally. “It’s a shame to finish theday like that, but I’m not giving up,” confirmed the Finn.
“It was a long day, but I feel good. I am going to keep pushing to try and close the gap to Petter and… well, you never know! The rest of the rally looks set to be very difficult; we haven’t seen anything yet.”
“Apart from the time lost by Mikko on SS6, it is pretty good for the sport to see four drivers fight it out like this,” concluded Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “The breakdown of the leg and the road conditions created multitude of minor twists and turns, but at the end of the day, the gaps are still pretty narrow. We all agree in the team that the rally will be decided tomorrow, on stages featuring much rougher and more abrasive gravel than those we’ve seen today.”
After two long days of racing, the final leg of the Acropolis Rally seemed somewhat easier. The 65km of timed stages were split into two loops, interspersed with a thirty-minute stop at the service park. With a mere 10-second advantage over Petter Solberg, Sébastien Loeb flew off on the Aghii Theodori stage, pushing to the max.
After a few kilometres, a message appeared on the DS3 WRC’s dashboard informing him that he could ease off a little: “Petter was reported to have come to a halt on the stage, so I stopped pushing so hard. After I passed him, I thought to myself that it would have been difficult to maintain the same pace right to the end, given how many potholes and rocks there were on the road!”
Solberg’s retirement enabled Mikko Hirvonen to move into second position. When he returned to Loutraki, the Finn looked somewhat incredulous at events: “I can hardly believe that I’ve moved up to second position. I haven’t been pushing since midway through yesterday to try and hold onto my position and secure a good overall result for the team. And now it looks like we might finish with a one-two!”
As it had been predicted that this Acropolis Rally would see plenty of unlikely twists and turns, SS20 left the team in a cold sweat. At the second split, Sébastien Loeb was one and a half minutes behind the pace-setter. The no.1 DS3 WRC lost no further time to the end of the stage, at which point Seb confirmed that he had been hit by a puncture:
“I don’t know what happened, but I felt that we had a flat tyre after three kilometres. It would have been impossible to make it to the end like that, so we stopped to change the wheel. Everything went well and, in the end, our lead didn’t come under threat.”
The rally concluded with the Power Stage, which was run on the first few kilometres of the Aghii Theodori stage. With the pressure finally off, Sébastien Loeb completed a masterful weekend’s performance on this relatively smooth stage by taking the fastest time and with it, the three bonus points. Third fastest on the Power Stage, Mikko Hirvonen also grabbed an extra point.
“We managed this race well, despite the constant pressure we were put under by our rivals,” said Loeb, who now boasts 71 career world championship wins. “I never lost my cool at any point, even when we got a puncture, because I knew we would still have enough of a lead. It is worth highlighting that we were able to count upon the unwavering reliability of the DS3 WRC.”
“Yes, my thoughts are with the technical team when we talk about this one-two finish,” added Mikko Hirvonen. “We had no mechanical problems on either car; that is a truly exceptional achievement on a rally like this one. As far as I’m concerned, I am still surprised to have finished second, but I had to be consistent and not make any mistakes. I am really looking forward to the next two rallies in New Zealand and Finland!”
“When you look at the road surface conditions faced by the cars and the teams on this rally, you can but admire the overall performance of the team,” emphasized Frédéric Banzet, Citroën General Manager. “The DS3 WRCs and the two crews were perfectly reliable. Citroën, Sébastien and Daniel extended their lead in the World Championship, so as we approach the halfway stage of the season, our assessment of the results achieved is very positive. As has been the case in recent rallies, Mikko and Jarmo produced a solid performance, enabling them to move up into second place in the Drivers’ standings. Once again, I’m very proud of the best rallying team in the world.”