This year’s Acropolis Rally Greece was one of the roughest and toughest in recent memory.
If we were rating the organizer, then a straight 10 would be on the cards for the hard work and improvisation it displayed to run an event during the most difficult of times for the entire country.
But instead Colin Clark’s column focuses on the Rally1 drivers and their performances on round 10 of the 2023 World Rally Championship.
Here’s his verdict:
Kalle Rovanperä 9/10
Rally Finland result: 1st
Another mighty impressive drive from Rovanperä – that’s two wins out of three now on one of the most demanding rallies on the calendar.
The atrocious weather in the build up to the event threw Rovanperä a lifeline – first on the road under normal circumstances could quite easily have seen Kalle shipping upwards of a minute on the opening day.
OK, it was still punishing, but Rovanperä’s measured approach meant he was very much in position to capitalize on the issues that beset both Neuville and Ogier later on in the event.
Struggled at times with the balance of the car under certain conditions but knew what he had to do and executed the plan to perfection
Elfyn Evans 8/10
Rally Finland result: 2nd
One absolute knockout stage and the rest were quick if unspectacular. Under normal circumstances this might have been seen as a good result for Elfyn, but in terms of this year’s championship, nothing short of a win was going to be good enough.
Elfyn’s ability to consistently bang in decent stage times while not taking any undue risk is impressive.
But to consider next year’s championship challenge a realistic possibility, Evans will have to find an extra injection of regular pace.
Sébastien Ogier 8/10
Rally Finland result: 10th
Without his Saturday afternoon woes I reckon Ogier would have won this one. His frustration at suffering a total hybrid failure just before SS12 was obvious and understandable.
However, Ogier is as cool, as calculated and as clever as any driver we’ve ever seen and you have to question how he allowed himself to be wound up so badly by this issue that he ultimately over drove the car into trouble on Saturday’s final stage.
That aside, Ogier is entirely right to question the failure. We are almost two seasons into the hybrid era and this issues should not be happenings often as they are.
Takamoto Katsuta 6/10
Rally Finland result: 6th
Considering the disastrous event that Taka-san had here last year, and his disrupted preparations this year, Katasuta will consider this a decent result.
The last rough gravel rally, Safari, was a bit of a wreck-fest, so keeping his car more or less in one piece in Greece was, in itself, a result.
However, Katsuta will look at his stage times and the fact that he was regularly almost a second per kilometer off the fastest time will concern him. Finding a safe consistent pace is all well and good but consistent podiums will require a controlled step up in pace.
Thierry Neuville 8/10
Rally Finland result: 20th
Neuville will question the catastrophic result of the impact with that rock on SS9. Should the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 have been able to deal with it? Possibly, but the resulting retirement was a terminal blow to any lingering thoughts Thierry had about perhaps sneaking this years drivers title.
At the start of SS10, Neuville was nearly 24 seconds clear of Rovanperä and seemed to be pretty much in control of proceedings.
There have been mistakes this year and there have been mechanical failures. There’s also been a fair amount of bad luck and I guess that is more than likely what this one will be put down to. Neuville still very much has a title in him but the ability to pull all the elements together to make a credible tilt at the championship has once again eluded him.
What has to change next year? I really don’t know but Neuville has three rounds left this year to work it all out before he goes again next year.
Esapekka Lappi 6/10
Rally Finland result: 5th
Even before Lappi’s mechanical issues on SS11 he looked to be struggling in Greece.
His exceptional start with the Hyundai in the first half of the season has very much lifted expectations and Lappi’s head drops a little too easy for my liking when he’s not setting stage-winning times.
Dani Sordo 8/10
Rally Finland result: 3rd
The ultimate team player strikes again! Yes OK, his pace was a little below that which he would have liked, but he used all his knowledge and experience to keep himself out of trouble and score valuable manufacturer points for the team.
Sordo’s reliability is his biggest asset. He knows that outright pace is not always the way to win events and he regularly capitalises on others impetuous, over optimistic pace.
Hyundai seems to be leaning towards a youth policy for next year, which is laudable, but if it has serious aspirations to be manufacturers champions then surely Sordo must feature somewhere?
Ott Tänak 7/10
Rally Finland result: 4th
A few positive noises but lots of negative noises from Tänak again sadly in Greece. It looks as if some progress has been made with the suspension on the M-Sport Puma and that is very much a step in the right direction,
You can understand however the negative noises from Tänak. Reliability has been the major issue this season and once again mechanical issues cost him dearly.
Kept his cool after problems on the opening day to fight his way back to a creditable fourth place.
Pierre-Louis Loubet 5/10
Rally Finland result: DNF
I really don’t know how to score this one.
Loubet had a remarkably positive event here last year, winning his first WRC stage and leading the rally on the opening day.
A water pump failure here this time around meant he didn’t even make it in to the first stage proper.
Disappointing doesn’t even come close to it I’m sure for young Loubet; a top-five finish was the minimum he might have expected here.
Anyway, I’m going to give him points just for being a thoroughly decent lad. He’s the only driver who makes a point of coming up to all the journos, saying hello and shaking hands.
Jourdan Serderidis 10/10
Rally Finland result: 17th
I don’t care about Jourdan’s pace or where he finished overall.
This, we are told, is the likeable gentleman driver’s last outing in a Rally1 car and we all, as a rallying community, have a lot to thank him for.
The WRC has, quite uniquely in motorsport, always been supported by gentleman drivers but this is something that the current legislators seem to have forgotten about. And that is very sad indeed.
Not only do we need the characters and the entertainment, but more pertinently, we need the numbers.
More Jourdans would undoubtedly lead to a far healthier WRC and without him, right now, we lack one of the defining and unique elements of our sport.