Kalle Rovanperä’s red-hot form on the Acropolis Rally continued with a sensational stage win, as he went 14.1 seconds quicker than Ott Tänak on Sunday’s opening stage in difficult conditions.
The Acropolis has been predominantly dry despite an absolutely torrid recce, but, as predicted, rain began to fall on Sunday morning.
That transformed the road into the ‘Rally GB-like’ conditions spoken about on shakedown, creating a treacherous, slick and muddy surface that added unwanted jeopardy to the final day for the drivers.
It was described by Thierry Neuville, entering as the second car behind Jourdan Serderidis, as “a hell of a stage”.
“I have to say [there are] so many places to discover,” he added. “Really tricky in there and a lot of places where the grip is much slower than actually what you can see.”
Hyundai appeared to have outsmarted Toyota as all three of its drivers opted for five soft-compound Pirelli tires while Toyota’s trio carried three hard and two soft covers.
Third-placed Sébastien Ogier admitted it was the “wrong tire choice for sure, soft would’ve been best but we didn’t get the info it was going to rain”.
He was duly destroyed by Tänak by 13.9s, and the clever money would’ve been on Rovanperä losing a good chunk of his lead with inferior rubber.
But co-driver Jonne Halttunen’s fist pump at the end of the stage upon inspecting the times told the story. Rovanperä absolutely blitzed Tänak to extend his lead to 44.9s with just two stages to go.
“To be honest I was pushing a lot, but not too much,” he said. “I just enjoyed the driving and I think our pacenotes and everything is really well prepared.
“I just have a good feeling with the car and push quite a lot.”
All was not perfect in Tänak’s Hyundai though: “For us it’s OK, but we are carrying some electrical issues so I’m trying to manage at the moment. It’s far from perfect.”
In beating Ogier handsomely though, Tänak at least ended the stage with a seemingly comfortable 23.3s to third place.
Dani Sordo’s pace was much stronger compared to Saturday, but he continued to find himself in a lonely fourth overall with 1m31.1s up to Ogier and 2m02.9s over fifth place.
An intriguing battle for that position had been anticipated between M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith, but Greensmith took the position by default after Fourmaux failed to start Tarzan on time.
He was known to be working on his Ford Fiesta WRC just before the stage and surrendered his start time of 8.28am local. Fourmaux did make it onto the stage but 18 minutes late, thus incurring a three-minute penalty.
Greensmith for his part felt he was “not good enough” on SS13, but is now on course for his third top-five finish of the season.
Fourmaux’s demise also provided a welcome boost for Elfyn Evans, who moved up the leaderboard and is set to score more valuable championship points.
Evans is sixth, 11.2s ahead of Fourmaux who, despite his issue, set the fourth-fastest stage time. He was 16.1s quicker than Evans once he got underway.
“We had an engine issue on the road section so we needed to fix it before the stage,” Fourmaux explained. “We noticed that only before the start. It was the spark plugs so we only changed that.”
Andreas Mikkelsen retook the WRC2 lead and eighth overall from Marco Bulacia, while Neuville is just 25.4s adrift of ninth and looking poised to grab that position on the next stage.
Pierre-Louis Loubet, who had already retired late on Friday when the front-left steering arm on his 2C Hyundai broke on the final stage, left morning service but retired his car before the start of SS13. The reason is understood to be something mechanical.
Tarzan will be repeated later on Sunday as the end-of-event powerstage but will be reduced in length from 14.5 miles to 7.9 miles.
1 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 17m22.7s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +14.1s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +6.9s
4 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +29.2s
5 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +29.9s
6 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +42.1s
Leading positions after SS13
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 2h54m15.5s
2 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +44.9s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +1m08.2s
4 Sordo/Carrera (Hyundai) +2m39.3s
5 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +4m42.2s
6 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +6m37.2s
7 Fourmaux/Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +6m48.4s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +7m57.5s
9 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo der Ohannesian (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +8m04.3s
10 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +8m29.7s