3 weeks ago… After over half an hour of non-stop flat out driving and massive concentration, Sebastien Loeb came to stage end after one of the longest stages in the championship on Sunday morning on day 3 of Argentina. “He’s Rolled!?” say’s the 7 times champion with a tone of concern and disbelief. His younger French team mate Sebastien Ogier had the victory in his sights. After a great drive on Day 2 and the demise of Jari Matti Latvala after breaking his suspension, and with Loeb back a fair way due to a 1 minute penalty. But on the end of Ascochinga Stage, Ogier Rolled the car. Loeb had pushed but was sure the victory was well out of reach. But once again, it came down to the very final ‘Power’ Stage for the 2nd time in 3 rallies. And not for the first time, Loeb took the victory.
Can we expect to see the same close fight on the Car breaker that is the Acropolis rally? From what we have seen so far this season, we won’t know who could win until after the final Stage is complete, on a rally like Acropolis, anything could happen.
While we are on the subject of the remarkable 7 times champion, last time out in Greece back in 2009 Loeb took a tumble for the worst. A very rare mistake led to a massive crash as he rolled several times, making it the biggest crash of his career. It was Ford man Mikko Hirvonen who picked up the victory. That was the turning point for Ford back in 2009, and the season battle went all the way down to the final event in Wales where the championship was decided by just one point.
After Citroen dominating this seasons championship since Hirvonen’s win back in Sweden, this could be Fords chance to gain back that much needed win, and regain some points for the title race. But it’s not just Loeb and Hirvonen who are in for a shout. The younger Sebastien has shown many of times that no matter what experience he has on events, he can prove that he is one of the best, much like the Fords young Fin Jari-Matti Latvala, who at times looks to be unbeatable especially after an amazing performance in Argentina.
Norwegian Petter Solberg will be going “Flat out” as always after a great performance in Argentina up until his DS3’s Power steering failed on him. The Older Solberg brother, Henning will be back after missing the last event to secure sponsors for the remainder of the Season. Stobarts Matthew Wilson will need a good result as this could be his last rally of the 2011 season due to lack of funds and sponsorship. The Brit has put in some good consistent performances throughout this season with some top 5 finishes, originally he was only confirmed for the first 2 events, so has done well to reach the mid point of the season, he is hoping to still be able to compete on his home event in Wales at the end of the year.
However this rally isn’t just about speed. The drivers will need to have their heads about them, because the Rocky, hard, rough and rutted gravel stages will be a real test of reliability for the new generation World Rally Cars, as well as the high temperatures which regularly exceed 30 degrees, it could be tough on the engine and gearboxes. With the stages littered with rocks and a hard bed rock surface, it will also be a test for the Michelin tyres.
The Stages. On Friday the crews head up north for some classic stages and a remote service in Kamena Vourla. Saturday will be much the same as 2009 as the crews head west for stages in the Peloponnese Peninsular and on Saturday evening will be a all new 17km Nea Politia night stage. The final day, two stages close to the rally base will be run twice before the final 4km Power stage of Loutraki.
18 Stages over a competitive distance of 348.80 Kilometres.