This weekend is, without question, the biggest event of several drivers’ careers.
With the Junior World Rally Championship title on the line, as well as the Ford Fiesta Rally2 and tire package that comes with it, Acropolis Rally Greece 2023 will go down as one to remember for all the right or wrong reasons for rallying’s brightest talents.
So who’s still in contention? What do they have to do, and how are they feeling ahead of the challenge?
Welcome to DirtFish’s preview of the 2023 Junior WRC season finale:
Who can win?
After events in Sweden, Croatia, Sardinia and Estonia, it’s William Creighton who leads the way thanks to two rally wins and considerably more stage wins than anybody else.
That’s important as each stage win in Junior WRC yields an extra championship point, and only once so far this year has somebody walked away from an event with more stage-win points than Creighton.
Laurent Pellier is Creighton’s closest challenger despite not having won an event. The Frenchman missed out by an agonizing 0.6 seconds in Sweden and would’ve won in Croatia had he not suffered mechanical misfortune.
Pellier finished top of the regulars in Estonia, but interloper Grégoire Munster blocked him from claiming the win and maximum points.
Diego Domínguez is the other likely championship contender, with just three fewer points than Pellier. But with dropped scores considered, Pellier is 15 points up the road from Domínguez, while Creighton leads the way by 23.
However, with 65 points still up for grabs thanks to double points for the 15-stage finale, Roberto Blach, Tom Rensonnet and Croatia winner Eamonn Kelly are all still in mathematical contention too.
But they would each need some severe circumstances to work in their favor to pull off an upset.
|Driver||Rally wins||Stage wins||Pts (gross)||Pts (with drop)|
The boss’ view
Maciej Woda has seen his fair share of promising young drivers in his time co-ordinating the Junior WRC as M-Sport Poland’s managing director.
The Pole is predicting an intriguing battle this weekend that will last the distance, where strategy will also be key.
“We have got a very interesting week ahead of us,” said Woda. “The crews have already had a difficult start to the event with the tricky recce conditions which I think will affect those coming here for the first time more than those who have competed on the rally before.
“We saw the title fight go down to the final stage of the rally [last year] and I expect the same this year. On their best days and without any external factors, not much separates William, Laurent and Diego.
“I think they are more than aware of this too so I am particularly interested to see just how much they try and push at the start of this rally.”
The favorites’ view
Creighton is far from guaranteed the championship, but the 25-year-old has proven to be the one to beat over the course of 2023.
The double-points curveball, and the obvious challenge the Acropolis poses, complicates things though. Any DNF would be catastrophic, and if chief rival Pellier wins then Creighton could finish as low as third but would be heavily dependent on stage-win points.
He therefore can’t really drive as if he has a lead to protect, but he can’t push too much either.
So while the likes of Pellier and Domínguez effectively have everything to gain but nothing to lose, Creighton has a much trickier balance to figure out.
“The number one for me is getting through Friday,” Creighton told DirtFish.
“Of course it would be brilliant to be in a good position overall and in the fight, but you can’t get greedy. You have to be there at the end of Friday and just stay out of trouble and avoid super-rally, that’s important.
“For sure we’re going to have to be looking around us to see what our competitors are doing, but that doesn’t need to happen after the first two or three stages on Friday – that can come maybe later in the day.
“I suppose that’s a broad look at the strategy. But I think it’s obvious: we can’t go 10 tenths, but there’s going to be a point in the rally that we do have to show our pace and we have to have the right feeling in the car and the right setup.
“So we sort of have to approach it like a normal rally which is what we’re going to do, and we’ve prepared as if it’s a normal rally, but it’s just going to be trying to manage speed with staying out of trouble which is easier said than done
“Yeah there’s going to be pressure, but I know Liam [Regan, co-driver] and I will be fit to manage that. It’s maybe a cliché, but we need to try and enjoy it.
“That is going to be so difficult because of what is riding on it and how unpredictable it might be, but if we can enjoy it and get into a good rhythm, I’ve seen it this year it helps with my performance when I’m a bit more relaxed in the car.
“That’s the aim, and hopefully it’ll happen.”
What’s on the line
Aside from the prestige of becoming Junior world champion and joining a roll of honor that includes the two most successful WRC drivers ever, Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier, the victor will be able to contest four fully-funded rounds of WRC2 next year in a Ford Fiesta Rally2, with 200 free Pirelli tires at their disposal too.
In short, it’s the biggest prize available in rallying.
Any of the contenders would be well deserving of it, but there is a sense that this is Creighton’s to lose given this is his third season in the category and has led the championship from start to finish.
How will it all unfold? Make sure you tune into DirtFish Live Center throughout the weekend to find out.