Eight summers and eight winters have passed since World Rally Cars last ripped through the center of Greece on the Acropolis Rally.
The roads have changed. So have the cars. So what do you do on Thursday afternoon? Where do you find the perfect set-up? Perhaps more than ever, this week’s Lamia-based WRC counter is a break with the norm and that’s going to demand a significant degree of flexibility from the teams.
With shakedown done, the crews will head to Athens for a ceremonial start outside the Parthenon on the Acropolis, followed by what’s likely to be one of the finest street stages in recent years through the capital itself.
The first day of competition proper starts with two runs through Aghii Theodori split by a single shot at the Loutraki stage and a tire fitting zone. From then on its due north through Thiva and on to Elatia.
Crucially, the first service doesn’t come until Lamia on Friday night.
Rally director Pavlos Athanasoulas has already told DirtFish the teams can expect some of the stages to be smoother than they once might have been. But there will still be rocks to rival the rally-stoppers found on Safari and in Turkey.
“This rally really is a challenge,” said Toyota technical director Tom Fowler. “As we discussed before when we chased performance between Portugal and Sardinia, testing a rally car isn’t a precise science. You go to one test and you can make one thing a little bit better, but maybe not in all conditions. It’s complicated. And it’s a little bit like that for Greece this week.
“Basically, we have a buffet of set-ups with Portugal, Sardinia and Safari. We have a bit of an idea of what to expect from Greece historically, but we know the roads are not all the same this week. Mix all of this together and its makes it difficult to understand what’s coming.
I think it’s fair to say it’s not going to be the most straightforward of ralliesTom Fowler
“We need to take bits of our buffet, a portion of this and a portion of that and mix them into a nice meal. Did that sound a bit like [Hyundai Motorsport’s Andrea] Adamo?
“There’s no issue,” Fowler addded, “we have 100% opportunity available for the drivers to chose their set-up – as a team we can handle this very well. Some decisions on car set-up and tire strategy can be taken as a team – and sometimes we will take the safe option – but that plays into the hands of the drivers, where we think the risk is too high for the potential gain.
“I think it’s fair to say it’s not going to be the most straightforward of rallies and we will have to be adaptable. Any set-up changes we make can affect the way the car’s loaded and that can then go on to affect reliability.”
Having won both Sardinia and Safari, it’s a fair assumption that Toyota has its rough gravel pace sorted. Fowler is, however, quick to point to the Hyundai’s continued pace on the loose.
“Everybody’s talking about Hyundai having very good pace in particular stages,” he said. “I think we can delete Ypres as that was something specific, something special.
“But on the gravel, there’s no denying Hyundai has good pace in particular stages and we could go completely crazy doing new things to try and counteract that, but we still need to get to the end of rallies. It’s a tricky balance.”
Despite a 38-point buffer in the drivers’ title race and 41 in the manufacturers’ championship, Fowler said managing the margin wasn’t in his mind yet.
“It’s like a driver with a 30-second lead,” he said. “You can’t back off, just in case you get a puncture. Maybe for us you could say it’s not sensible to take the risk, but Hyundai’s not that far behind either. It’s nice to have the lead, but it’s also very nerve-wracking.
“This sport can be painful, it’s a fine line between a nice video for the television and disaster.”