The Rally of the Gods, as the Acropolis Rally is so often called, attracted back one of the World Rally Championship’s icons last weekend, but there were also a driver at the opposite end of the experience spectrum who showed they had what it takes to tackle the roughest of rallies.
Neither got a perfect 10/10 score for their performance though, and the rally winner had more than just the relationship with his car that he had to worry about during the event.
Kalle Rovanperä 3/10
Acropolis Rally result: 15th
Two rallies and two mistakes for the seemingly untouchable Toyota star has got a few around the service park asking questions.
But I don’t think they really need to.
Rovanperä knew from first thing on Thursday morning that this was going to be a challenging event. The combination of road cleaning and an apparently less than ideal preparation from the team for this event had the young Finn on the backfoot from the get-go.
There are always lessons to be learned and Rovanperä will have learned a lot from the weekend. Even with the issues he so clearly faced, a better managed drive would have delivered a decent haul of points and perhaps eased the mounting pressure on his title challenge.
Elfyn Evans 5/10
Acropolis Rally result: DNF
All of the Toyota drivers struggled to get to grips with their cars this week and Evans was no exception. But he was making progress and seemed to be mastering whatever the issues were that blighted the Yaris’s performance this week.
It’s a long way from where Elfyn wants to be but as I’ve said before, his focus is now on preparing for a title challenge next year and to do that he absolutely has to get way more comfortable in this new generation car than he currently seems to be.
A mechanical failure cost him hard fought and well-deserved points here but at least there were a few positives to take away for the Welshman.
Esapekka Lappi 7/10
Acropolis Rally result: 22nd
Was right there in the mix fighting for second place with Tänak until fuel pressure issues on Saturday afternoon stopped his Yaris Rally1.
Once again showed his worth to the team with great pace and battling abilities through the first half of the rally. You really have to wonder how much quicker and reliable Lappi could be with a more consistent program.
Looks quick enough every time he gets in the car but needs a little more luck on his side to ultimately deliver the results.
Takamoto Katsuta 3/10
Acropolis Rally result: 6th
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Taka-san looking quite so lost as he was on the dusty roads of Greece. Whatever the issue was that the Toyotas were carrying all week, and believe me I tried very hard to get to the bottom of it, Taka seemed least capable of dealing with it.
I suspect the others to some degree were able to drive round the issues but Taka clearly wasn’t. At times he looked and sounded almost shellshocked by the experience.
He has to get credit for keeping his car on the road and being the first Toyota home but more than any of the others, Katsuta will dearly hope that this mystery issue afflicting the cars is a one-off and not something more concerning.
Thierry Neuville 9/10
Acropolis Rally result: 1st
Neuville will be mighty relieved to have broken his Rally1 duck here in Greece – and it’s fair to say he did it in some style.
This was a rally of attrition and the driver who could best balance pace and risk was always going to come out on top. And that was Neuville.
Friday was the big day for Neuville, in fact it was the big day for all our crews at the front of the field. Five stages before any passes left the potential for Neuville to fall a long way off the lead yet he finished the day 16 seconds behind the lead and that laid the foundations for a winning push over the next two days.
The fact that Neuville had a relatively trouble-free rally is testament to his ability to understand the car and its capabilities in these conditions.
Fair play to him too for not allowing all the team orders talk on Sunday to distract him. Blocked it all out and did what he set out to do – win the rally.
As a side note, this result has once again reestablished Neuville’s position as the dominant force in the Hyundai team.
Ott Tänak 8/10
Acropolis Rally result: 2nd
Tänak was another who kept himself in the hunt on Friday with a clean and tenacious run. Sadly for the Estonian, his battling efforts to catch Neuville were ultimately defeated by reliability issues with his i20 Rally1 car.
A temperamental differential on Saturday morning and then an unreliable hybrid unit in the afternoon meant that he was unable to close the gap to his team-mate.
Tänak was a frustrated and perplexed man for much of the weekend. His request for Dani Sordo to drop behind him on Friday evening that went unseen by the Spaniard and then the teams’s refusal to back his efforts to gain extra points for the driver’s championship in favour of as he put it “good PR”, rattled the seemingly unshakeable Tänak.
I suspect there’s more to come with this story but huge credit goes to Tänak for securing second place from second on the road and taking maximum powerstage points.
Dani Sordo 7/10
Acropolis Rally result: 3rd
That’s five podiums in a row for the ever-reliable Spaniard. But again he wasn’t particularly happy with his speed over the weekend and was quick to bat off any praise for his performance. He reckons he just wasn’t quick enough – and in some ways I’d agree.
He certainly didn’t show stage-winning pace, even with his advantageous road position on the opening day. But Sordo is there to support his two fighting team-mates, and he did that brilliantly.
No issues and no dramas meant Sordo was able to measure his approach and bring his car home to complete a podium lockout for Hyundai. Sordo’s speed may have dropped a notch, but his intelligence, experience, ability and worth to the team just continues to grow.
Sébastien Loeb 9/10
Acropolis Rally result: DNF
It’s really quite astonishing that Loeb, every time he gets in this Puma, looks like he’s capable of winning the rally.
Minimum preparation, minimum setup changes, minimum fuss and maximum performance – from a 48-year-old. It’s truly remarkable.
Loeb very likely would have won this rally had it not been for a freak issues with the alternator belt on his Puma Rally1.
Should we be surprised by Loeb’s performance? Absolutely not. He’s as fit, as focused, as determined and just about as fast as he’s ever been.
Another one that needs a wee bit of luck but I really can’t wait to see him next in the M-Sport car and keeping everything crossed that we see him more regularly next season.
Craig Breen 6/10
Acropolis Rally result: 5th
Friday’s stages were amongst the roughest we see in Greece yet astonishingly Breen was the only driver to pick up an issue – a puncture cost him two minutes and any chance he might have had of battling for a good result here.
And that just about sums up Breen’s season so far. It doesn’t matter what he does, he’s really struggling to get a break right now.
But full credit to Breen for getting stuck in on the remaining two days of the event, showing some pace and lots of controlled driving to bring his Puma home in fifth.
Everyone knows I’m a big Breen fan and I as much as anyone want see him succeed with this car. And I tell you what, I have a feeling, actually it was a dream, and New Zealand could well be Breen’s event. OK, sounds all a little mad, but come back to me after NZ and we’ll see if I need to go see someone.
Pierre-Louis Loubet 8/10
Acropolis Rally result: 4th
If you’d told me this time last year that Loubet would win two stages and lead a rally I’d have seriously questioned your sanity.
Loubet was lost in the previous-generation Hyundai and seemed very much out of his depths. But the more we see of Loubet this year the more we have to question the car he was in last year and not so much the driver. This kid is properly talented.
I don’t care that he had an advantage with road position on Friday. He proved that he can handle these cars at the ultimate speed and more than that he can handle the pressure at the ultimate end of rallying.
Battled punctures and niggling issues with his Puma through the rest of the weekend and to his credit kept his car on the road to secure a mighty impressive fourth place finish.
There’s still lots of improvement needed from the young Frenchman if he is to eventually challenge for podiums and wins but this was a massive demonstration of the potential that’s there.
Gus Greensmith 4/10
Acropolis Rally result: 29th
Once again showed glimpses of pace at times throughout the week but wasn’t able to put it all together to deliver the result that he so desperately wants and needs.
While it’s work in progress for Gus, he absolutely needs to concentrate on the positives and continue to believe in his ability to compete in this league.
Consistency is the key to progress and Gus can be pleased that he came away from Greece having made no big mistakes and shown that there is pace there.