The World Rally Championship will return to Greece’s Olympic Stadium in Athens this September.
The nation’s WRC round first used the venue just 12 months after Greece’s stunning 2004 Olympic Games. And the Acropolis Rally’s 2005 superspecial was one of the season’s talking points. With 60,000 fans packed in, the atmosphere was exceptional and the action around the head-to-head circuit spectacular.
The following year, buoyed by that success, the event organizer tried to cash in and hiked the price of the tickets. The result was one of the least well attended stages of the event and a huge missed opportunity.
After the noise of 2005, the stadium fell silent in 2006. And fell off the itinerary in 2007.
Acropolis Rally director Pavlos Athanassoulas knows what happened last time. He was there, in the crowd, cheering on his brother Lambros. When it comes to Thursday September 8 this year, he’s ready.
“We have learned from the mistakes of others,” he told DirtFish. “We know what happened last time, we know what went wrong. It won’t happen again.”
Athanassoulas is one of the most astute rally organizers around. He knows his market like he knows his stages.
But a rally director is only as good as the backer behind him. Pavlos couldn’t wish for anybody better.
For those of you wondering who to thank for bringing back one of world rallying’s most iconic events, it’s Lefteris Avgenakis.
Avgenakis is Greece’s deputy minister for culture and sport. And, being politically sensible, we should also be enormously grateful to prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
These two, along with plenty more unsung heroes, have worked tirelessly to bring the Acropolis Rally back. And now they’ve given Athens the chance to revel in some of that rallying spotlight.
Crucially, it’s open to all of Athens.
“It was too expensive last time,” he said. “Now the government has a plan to make the Olympic Stadium accessible to everybody: families, children, everybody.
“And we want to bring people to our sport. We know that going to the stages costs a lot. It costs fuel, you must have the car, food and maybe accommodation and you’ve got to take the day off. For people in and around Athens, you take the tube to the Olympic Stadium and with 10 or 15 euros you watch the best rally drivers in the world.
“To have 60,000 fans back in the stadium with us is going to be very, very special.”
This time last year, gathering 60,000 people in one – admittedly very big – room wasn’t a good idea.
“The timing is right now,” added Athanassoulas. “Hopefully we have come through the worst of coronavirus and now we’re ready – everybody is ready to see and to hear the noise from these amazing hybrid Rally1 cars.
“Really, we have to thank the minister [Avgenakis] for what he is doing. Like I said, the government wants to make the Olympic Stadium special for families. But it’s not just that stadium, the government is rejuvenating all of the complex – it’s fantastic.
“The stadium stage will be head-to-head again, which gives a real chance to see where these cars are against each other. There’s not so much you can change for the stage in the stadium – the layout itself worked quit well with the bridge and things last time. We can’t completely re-invent these kind of things and I don’t think we need to.
“That’s not to say we don’t have changes coming on the route. There are, there are some nice surprises, but I can’t tell you more – Anita [Passalis, clerk of the course] will kill me!”
After the Thursday night opener, the cars and crews will spend the night in Loutraki to avoid the long hike to and from Lamia for the opening day’s stages to the west of the capital.
The Acropolis Rally runs from September 8-11.