What WRC drivers expect from stormy Acropolis

Extremely tough conditions could make the event something of a lottery


Normally by now the talking would have stopped. The driving should have begun – that first feeling of car behavior and setup banked after shakedown.

But not this week.

Instead, the latest round of the World Rally Championship is yet to get going. Acropolis Rally Greece has been a story of heavy thunderstorms and the disruption caused by them.

The recce schedule was tweaked, shakedown was canceled, and even today there are delays in the transporters arriving to take the cars to Athens for the ceremonial start and tonight’s opening stage.

Everything is scheduled to go ahead as planned, but nothing is certain in situations like these.

Uncertainty is perhaps the best word to describe the feeling within the Lamia service park. What can we expect? Will the rain ever stop? If it does, how much will the stages dry?

The challenge the drivers are presented with is mighty.

“Yeah, it’s a big lottery,” Esapekka Lappi told DirtFish.

“There might be some good sections, dry sections with good grip and suddenly after some corners you have mud and then it’s going to be a huge surprise.

“In some places you have space, some you don’t have, so it’s a tough job.”

Particularly tough when you’ve done a recce in filthy conditions that may look completely different by the time the rally cars get there.


But, in a sense, that’s a blessing in disguise according to Sébastien Ogier.

“At least that way around it’s working,” he explained. “The other way around [with the recce dry and stages soaking] would have been nearly impossible I would say to compete in these conditions, it would have been really unsafe.

“But now if the weather turns to be good for the weekend, yeah then it’s a matter of keeping your eyes open and adapting your rhythm, but it’s easier to say than to do.”


Not least in terms of tires, with Pirelli selecting the hard compound as the prime option given Greece is usually a warm, dry rally.

That leaves drivers with just 12 soft tires, which are the preferred option when it’s wet.

“Yeah, it’s definitely going to be a tricky weekend if it stays, let’s say, damp,” said world champion Kalle Rovanperä.


“We don’t have so many soft tires. It will be a different tire plans through the weekend I’m sure.”

Lappi added: “Yeah, it’s 12 softs, so… yeah.

“We managed to do Sardinia with 12 softs,” he laughed, “which is not normal. I’m sure we need at some point hards but to understand what will happen; it’s tough.”

Elfyn Evans feels managing tires would have been a challenge anyway, regardless of the weather.

“Yeah, it could be [an added complication],” he said, “[but] likewise it was going to be a bit of a headache if it was a dry rally, to be honest, with the wear on the hard.

“We know it’s probably the hardest rally of the season on tires if it’s dry so, yeah, we have to wait and see how the stages evolve, and if we do get a lot of sun there’ll be the topic of the crossover between the soft and hard also.

“It’s difficult to get a good set of notes,” Evans added, “especially where we have new stages, we don’t have the references from the past.


“When you’re turning in thick mud it’s very hard to get a picture or imagine what it’s going to be like to drive through and the speed you’re going to be carrying etc, so that’s going to be pretty difficult.

“And of course, we’ve seen here in the past when you have these extreme conditions you only need a couple days’ sun and it looks very different by the time you arrive there.

“With such changeable conditions you need a lot of things to go your way, probably including a bit of luck I’m going to guess, with the conditions we’ve got out there. Let’s wait and see.”


Hyundai’s Dani Sordo went as far as to call the situation “a disaster”. He should’ve been in a prime position for Friday starting towards the back of the field, but instead that advantage has been negated.

“When it’s muddy the further back you are the worse it is,” Sordo said. “The conditions are not like you can push, you can enjoy. You take one corner and you are going out because it is very slippery.

“And also the recce was not good conditions, but it is like it is. We need to handle like this.”

In fairness, no matter where you are on the road you are likely to struggle – particularly on the first day. Nobody knows where the best place in the running order will be.

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“I don’t know either!” Lappi smiled.

“But like normally if it’s raining then it’s good to be the first one, but if it’s now so and so – is it damp or wet or dry – then it’s so hard to say which is the best road position.

“But in the hand, we don’t need to think about that. The road position is solved, we just need to drive.”

Can an event like this be enjoyed though?

“I don’t think so,” Lappi replied. “The challenge is massive.”

Q&A with the rally director

Colin Clark caught up with Acropolis Rally Greece rally director Pavlos Athanasoulas in the service park on Thursday afternoon:

What’s the latest you can tell us on the situation with the rally and the weather?

First of all I would like to express my sympathy to all the people that have been affected by the floods – this is the first thing on our minds right now. Then the rally has to make the start. We have sent people out, it looks like we are safe. Fingers crossed that it won’t become worse, but as we speak [there are] some very minor disruptions like trees falling down and everything. The prefecture of central Greece has sent all its forces out and are clearing the stages. Fingers crossed.

You’ve cut the powerstage in half, do you foresee some other stages being cut or lost altogether? Is that potentially something you’re planning for?

We are not planning for anything, we are taking the situation as it goes. So we have trust, complete trust, in what Anita [Passalis, clerk of the course], Michèle [Mouton], Timo [Rautiainen] and the rest of the safety people decide and we will be 100% behind their decision.

What is your advice for spectators, should they be making their way towards the stages?

I would advise to be very careful, avoid gravel roads, try to use the Tarmac roads, use 4×4 cars. Hopefully by Saturday things will have dried out and we will see a good Sunday. But the weather is highly unpredictable. We were expecting the rain to stop yesterday afternoon but it carried on until now. Fingers crossed.