The World Rally Championship heads out for its first Acropolis Rally recce since 2013 on Monday morning, but DirtFish understands crews could be in for a big surprise on their first pass of the roads around Lamia in central Greece.
Historically, the Acropolis has always been the roughest of the European rounds of the WRC – in places slower, hotter and more arduous than the Safari Rally. This year, it appears, will be a little bit different. Significant amounts of work on the roads used on the route have left the stages smoother and faster than expected.
Universally, the teams are all placing a greater emphasis than usual on the engineers’ recce, which is when the more technically minded team members get to drive the roads and work out how to set up their World Rally Cars for what’s looking increasingly like a step into the unknown.
But how smooth will it be? Are we talking Rally Finland or New Zealand-specification?
Not a chance, according to rally director Pavlos Athanasoulas. He told DirtFish: “The truth is, there are some sections which are a bit smoother.
“Don’t forget, some of these roads haven’t been rallied for eight or 10 years or something like that, so we had to put in a lot of work on those roads – and we’re very grateful for the help on this from the government of central Greece.
“The work they’ve done is in some grading and clearing some of the branches which were overhanging the road. We haven’t had to fix any complete stages, but some sections were in a bad way.
“But, don’t worry, this is still the Acropolis Rally of Gods – we will still have some very rough sections which will really slow the cars down. The roads might look smooth, but we’ve had the hottest August I can remember and this event will still be a tough challenge.”
The route for this week’s WRC round is something of a change from the norm, with only four stages across the three days repeated. Six stages – including classics such as Thiva and Bauxites – run only once.
The double-run Aghii Theodori test could, according to Athanasoulas, complicate the opening day.
“That’s going to be a tough one,” he said. Maybe this is the most difficult of the whole event.
“OK, Tarzan, the powerstage is tricky as well, but Aghii Theodori on the second run will be very hard.”
The crews recce the roads from Monday to Wednesday, before Thursday’s shakedown and the evening’s opening stage in the middle of Athens.