It’s been a long eight-year absence, but for the first time since 2013, the World Rally Championship has touched base in Greece for the Acropolis Rally this week.
The last time the WRC was here, Jari-Matti Latvala won in a Volkswagen Polo R WRC. Since then, Latvala has won another eight rallies for VW, two for Toyota and morphed from a driver to a team principal with Toyota. VW hasn’t been in the WRC’s top class for five years.
But despite this clear shift in the world rallying landscape, Acropolis will be familiar to several of the leading contenders on this year’s entry.
Here’s DirtFish’s form guide to the 2021 Acropolis Rally.
#1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 5th-4th-1st
Last 3 Greece results: 10th-7th(1st SWRC)-1st
World championship leader Sébastien Ogier is the only one of the top-line crews to have won the Acropolis Rally before, doing so back in 2011 in a Citroën DS3 WRC.
Greece was one of very few disappointing events of Ogier’s maiden championship-winning season in 2013, and he’d had to wait eight years to atone for that disappointment. But as ever, Ogier will likely face the worst of the conditions as the first driver onto the stages on Friday.
His weekend could therefore be all about salvaging as much as he possibly can from it, as opposed to fighting tooth and nail for the win. Ogier is in a comfortable championship position so a win isn’t paramount, but with 2020 being his last full season in the WRC he won’t want to go out on a whimper.
Ogier’s recent form hasn’t been bad, but compared to the swashbuckling start to the season it has been a little off color. Acropolis could be a thinking driver’s rally though, and that’s where the seven-time champion always tends to excel.
#6 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 12th-17th-2nd
Last 3 Greece results: 2nd-11th-5th
For the first time since the Safari, Dani Sordo is back in the third Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC and with his third different co-driver of the year after Carlos del Barrio and Borja Rozada.
Del Barrio was always scheduled to leave but Sordo’s collaboration with Rozada – despite claiming a podium on debut together in Portugal – never quite gelled so Cándido Carrera has been called up.
While the Acropolis will be the duo’s first WRC rally together, the partnership has already got off to a winning start with an appearance in Spain in an R5 i20. A repeat result in Greece in the WRC might not be as unlikely as it could be perceived, with Sordo starting the first leg eighth on the road.
Enduring gravel rallies have become Sordo’s bread and butter in recent years, so after a refresh he could be right back on form again following a disappointing Italy and Kenya earlier this year.
#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Florian Haut-Labourdette (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 68th-7th-DNF
Last 3 Greece results: N/A
Pierre-Louis Loubet had something of a breakthrough in Estonia, making it to the end of the rally without mistakes for the first time this season. But that was undone in Ypres as he was caught out by a notorious roadside ditch and lost almost a full day of running.
The objective in Acropolis must therefore be simply to make the finish once more as he looks to rebuild his confidence after a reputation damaging season. And on an event as notorious as this one, that could prove to be a rather prosperous strategy.
Loubet will however be coming into this rally blind with no previous experience of the terrain.
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 6th-31st-3rd
Last 3 Greece results: 9th-DNF-N/A
Ott Tänak’s season, from a world championship perspective, is basically over. His job now is to ensure the manufacturers’ trophy heads back to Hyundai Motorsport HQ in Alzenau for a third successive season and, if possible, help Thierry Neuville chase down Ogier in the drivers’ race too.
It’s a shame that Tänak has often been bereft of good fortune this season and he’s now out of the title picture, but that doesn’t mean to say he’ll be a dormant player throughout the rest of the season. Far from it.
Tänak is one of the favorites to win this week. Starting fifth on the road should prove an advantage over his closest rivals, and he’s shown in the past that he’s handy at looking after the car and playing the strategic game in order to land a result. Remember Turkey 2018?
The elephant in the room of course is Hyundai’s suspension troubles, and whether the i20 Coupe WRC can withstand the Acropolis or wilt like it did in Portugal, Sardinia and Kenya.
#9 Jourdan Serderidis/Frédéric Miclotte (Ford Fiesta WRC)
Last 3 WRC results:10th-18th-11th
Last 3 Greece results: 7th-10th-19th
For the first time since 2018, Jourdan Serderidis is back in the World Rally Championship, armed with a Ford Fiesta WRC from M-Sport – Ott Tänak’s 2017 Rally Italy winning chassis no less.
The car has been ever present in 2021, driven by all three of M-Sport’s permanent drivers, unlike Serderidis who has been rallying at a national level this term in a Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo.
Serderidis is therefore familiar with the Greek terrain, and has done this event several times in recent years when it’s been a counting round of the European Rally Championship.
As a gentleman driver, it’s unlikely he’ll be fighting for a podium this week but we can absolutely expect him to be pushing for a points finish.
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 1st-3rd-DNF
Last 3 Greece results: 3rd-6th-N/A
Of all the drivers in the WRC, Thierry Neuville is in the hottest form right now. Victory on the Ypres Rally last weekend cemented that, but in truth Neuville has been on the money on most of the recent rallies.
The Acropolis isn’t a new event to him (he’s done it twice in the WRC in 2012 and ’13) and he proved his rough rally credentials by leading the Safari before his suspension gave way on the final morning.
Neuville will also start third on the road, despite sharing second in the championship with Elfyn Evans, which could prove to be a small advantage too. A victory would be a huge boost for his reignited title chances, so expect Neuville to be pushing hard for exactly that on the Acropolis.
#16 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (Ford Fiesta WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF-5th-6th
Last 3 Greece results: N/A
Adrien Fourmaux’s life as a top-line WRC driver had been flawless right up until the third stage of the Ypres Rally where he got it wrong and crashed out of the rally spectacularly. The mission this week then will be all about rebuilding any lost confidence from that accident and getting his season back on track.
Fourmaux has received a boost in that he’s unlikely to find himself back in WRC2 any time soon given Teemu Suninen’s sudden departure from M-Sport. That affords him to complete the final four rounds of the season in an uninterrupted fashion and continue to increase his World Rally Car odometer.
Given Fourmaux was only just old enough to drive when the Acropolis last featured on the WRC calendar, it’s no shock that he has no experience of this event. But the Frenchman’s entire 2021 season has been about learning from scratch, so that’s hardly going to hold him back.
If he can replicate his gravel form from Portugal and the Safari, Acropolis could be another one for the Adrien Fourmaux highlight reel.
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 4th-5th-10th
Last 3 Greece results: 1st(WRC Academy)-N/A
In contrast to Neuville, if anybody needs a bit of a boost in form this week it’s the driver that shares second place in the championship with him: Elfyn Evans. His recent WRC form hasn’t been bad per say, but he’s been left a bit wanting in battle with Neuville and Ogier with whom he’s fighting for the title with.
Losing points to Ogier in Ypres despite managing to beat him was the perfect case-in point. If Evans wants to be a genuine contender for the 2021 title, he needs to pull a result out of the bag in Greece. And a big one.
The Acropolis is however a rally that’s relatively unfamiliar to him. He has done it once but that was back in 2012 behind the wheel of a two-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta R2; a completely different beast to the Toyota Yaris WRC he’ll drive this year.
Evans has proven to be adept on rough rallies though where strategy comes to the fore, so if he can find the right feeling – which has seemed to be his shortcoming of late – from the get-go on the Acropolis, he could be in the mix for victory come Sunday.
#44 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (Ford Fiesta WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 47th-32nd-4th
Last 3 Greece results: N/A
Acropolis is a rally M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith has been waiting for for a long time. He views it as a chance to try and fight for his first ever stage win in the WRC and, potentially, a podium finish.
And in reality, there’s little to suggest that’s out of reach. While Greensmith has no prior experience of the event, co-driver Chris Patterson has contested it 10 times before so will know a thing or two about how to tackle the terrain.
Then there’s Greensmith’s general performance, which has improved greatly over the course of the season – particularly on the last rough rally in Kenya. If everything strings together, Acropolis could be a rather good event for the 24-year-old in which he’ll be very keen to get the better of team-mate Fourmaux.
#69 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 3rd-1st-6th
Last 3 Greece results: N/A
There was a point where Kalle Rovanperä was looking a little lackluster, a bit lost, a tad off color. Not anymore. Toyota’s 20-year-old has been inspired since winning Rally Estonia, claiming an Ypres Rally podium he really had no right to achieve.
That bodes well for the Acropolis – another event which will be all-new for Rovanperä. Starting fourth on the road could be a bit of a sweet-spot although getting the better of Tänak’s Hyundai (starting fifth) could be the problem if conditions do remain dry.
Rovanperä was a frontrunner on Safari Rally Kenya – the last rougher, more technical gravel round – before getting swallowed by fesh-fesh, so he’s clearly more than capable of putting up a fight.
A second WRC victory for what’s destined to be a rather wealthy trophy collection is not a ludicrous shout by any stretch of the imagination.