The blue skies. the rocky gravel tracked mountains, the passionate fans and spectators cheering and chanting. This was the setting as we were looking at a four way battle for the three podium positions on the final day of the Acropolis rally and it very much came down to the final few stages.
Day 3 started with SS14. There were 5 stages on day3 with a competitive distance of 65km. Only 2.2 seconds separated Loeb, who was on the road cleaning duties, and Ogier who had charged his way up to first on day 2, but dropped back on the night stage, much to Loeb’s annoyance last night.
Loeb struggled a lot on the loose surface, but pushed as hard as he could to try to keep it that way. Ogier behind, soon took full advantage of his road position and took the lead. But only by a meer tenth of a second. The battle was on! The two team mates going flat-out to prove who is the dominant force in the Citroen camp.
Stage 15 followed, where Loeb re-took the lead, swapping the two Seb’s around. This time it was the 7 times champion who had the lead of just 0.1 seconds. Making this anther close final day fight between the two team mates, with no team orders to stop them from driving each other over the limit for the victory. “we will continue to fight like this”. But Loeb was still unhappy about last nights tactics in the dark, the lack of split times from Ogier on that final stage yesterday added to that. Ogier was the only one who knew what the plan was as he could drive to the target time fed into the car. Showing that there is possible rivalry between the two team mates. But Ogier was quick to defend that saying at the end of SS15 “Theres no problem between him and me. We both want to win the events and if he was in anther team it would be the same.”
It was on stage 16 when Ogier again re-took the lead, only this time by 6 seconds over Loeb. And there was nothing Sebastien Loeb could do about it, being first on the road was affecting the times, despite him driving a perfect stage. “I did a perfect stage, no mistakes and I was flat out everywhere, the difference is the road cleaning”. With Loeb and Ogier locked in a battle for the win, Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen was moving his way closer to them, putting added pressure on the Frenchman and setting the fastest time on SS16. He was now just 7.4 seconds behind Loeb and closing in. On Stage 17, the rally became Ogier’s to lose. The younger frenchman putting in a dominant performance and almost doubled the gap. Now loeb had to change his focus on to the man behind, as Mikko Hirvonen had come within just 2.6 seconds of Loeb. The 2nd part of the day very much became a battle for 2nd place.
The ‘Power Stage’. The final stage of the day. Where 3 bonus points are up for grabs to the fastest driver of the stage. The stage runs in reverse order. Stobarts Mads Ostberg was the first of the big boys to come through the stage. He crashed out on day 1 but takes some positives from the weekend with some good stage times within the top 5. Latvala was next through, hampered by reliability issues throughout the weekend, but proved that he has the speed when it all works and finished the rally in 9th.
Making a return this weekend after driving in NASCAR trucks is Ex-F1 Champ Kimi Raikkonen. He’s had a few moments and mistakes this weekend, but overall put in a good drive and finished in 7th. Matthew Wilson finished 6th overall, a bit frustrated with various problems with the car misfiring throughout the weekend. Heading the Stobart team was Norwegian Henning Solberg. He finished in 5th place after missing Argentina to get sponsors sorted for the rest of the season. He had brake problems on day 2 but overall happy with his performance.
The real excitement was the top 4. Mikko came through and completed the stage. The Fin was 3rd fastest, but was unable to catch Loeb for that 2nd place. Petter Solberg looked set to win the rally after his drive on Friday with a 51 second lead, but struggled from day 2 on and was unable to respond to the top times. “I don’t know why, but I pushed everything I could. Happy with my performance and my driving and the team did very well.”
The rally was Ogier’s to lose. He just needed to keep it on the road for this final stage and make no mistakes, unlike what he’s done previously on the final day of rallies when the pressure gets to him. But no such mistakes today. He came through the final stage, 0.4 quicker than Hirvonen and wins Rally Acropolis in Greece. “Difficult rally” said the young frenchman. “Found a good rhythm, we pushed hard, I’m very happy, it was perfect.”
Loeb came through the ‘Power stage’, setting exactly the same time as Ogier. After battling with his team mate all day despite being first on the road, he had to concede to 2nd place. But ever the record breaker, Loeb gets his 100th Podium. “Great battle for sure. Its frustrating not to win because I think we were the fastest car on the rally. We cleaned the road for 2 days and 2nd on the other, I think we’ve done our best.”
Once again it was the french who dominated the World stage. With Citroen making it 6th in a row. This time it was the younger of the two Sebastien’s who took the win. Sebastien Ogier wins rally Acropolis. The next event will be Finland.
Click here for the official overall results of Acropolis Rally of Greece.