This year’s Acropolis Rally Greece was a throwback to a bygone era, where it was the norm for rallies to be won by minutes.
Safari Rally Kenya earlier in the year featured some big gaps in the top 10, but it was the closest ever finish in the event’s history.
But this weekend, the final margin was in excess of 90 seconds. However it didn’t always look that way.
Here are the winners and losers from Acropolis Rally 2023:
There was no better way for Rovanperä to bounce back from his Rally Finland retirement than with a maximum points score on the Acropolis, and that’s exactly what he delivered.
The fact it took two of his rivals to fall by the wayside for him to assume the lead is irrelevant. Considering his handicap at the head of the field on Friday, he was doing superbly to be in that position to pounce.
And what really matters is the message this sends to his title rivals.
Yes, closest rival Elfyn Evans managed to recover from an oil temperature scare on Saturday and seal second in a thrilling scrap with Dani Sordo, but Rovanperä’s victory proved that he is still the one they have to beat.
His championship lead is back up to 33 points with 90 available to score over the last three events.
What a weekend.
Mikkelsen has a habit of making this rally difficult for himself – remember that crash on the opening super-special last year?
This year he was on the back foot again, but through no fault of his own with, mysteriously, three rear-left punctures in as many stages that Mikkelsen suspects a broken damper was causing.
But what followed was majestic. With nothing left on the table, he had his foot flat to the floor and recovered all the way from as low as 16th to first.
Even when a notional time was readjusted and dropped him back behind Gus Greensmith, Mikkelsen still managed to win.
On a weekend where all the WRC2 title protagonists were competing, this was a very important result.
In the lead up to the double-points Junior WRC finale, Creighton told DirtFish he had just one concrete plan: make it through Friday.
Retiring with mechanical problems then was a disaster. But incredible work from the M-Sport Poland mechanics put the championship leader back in the game – albeit with lengthening title odds.
But when Laurent Pellier hit mechanical trouble of his own, Creighton was properly back in play and the fifth place he eventually secured – coupled with the stage win points he bagged – proved enough to defeat rally winner Diego Domínguez by just a handful of points!
With a huge title to his name and now a four-event program, plus 200 free Pirelli tires, in a Ford Fiesta Rally2 in WRC2 next year, how can Creighton not be a winner from the Acropolis?
Neuville was probably the biggest loser this weekend, given his heartbreak also had title complications for him.
By all accounts, the Belgian deserved to win in Greece. Grabbing the lead on Friday morning’s opener, Neuville never really looked back.
Seemingly in control, an impact through a hole broke his suspension and Neuville was stranded: unable to win, and now extremely unlikely to become World Rally champion.
Inheriting the lead when Neuville retired, you wouldn’t have bet on Ogier being overhauled – even if Rovanperä was lurking close behind.
But just two stages after taking the lead, the eight-time champion was on a slide down the leaderboard in dramatic circumstances as he picked up two rear punctures, one on the front and had damaged rear-left suspension to boot.
To rub insult to injury Ogier was forced to retire on the road section back to service, and was then slapped with a two-minute penalty for driving without his seat belt securely fastened – a repeat mistake after doing the same in Croatia.
One of those ones Ogier will be desperate to forget, and quickly.
Nothing short of a disastrous weekend.
It would be bad enough in any context, but having spent an entire month psyching himself up for a rally he expected to be one of his strongest, it was utterly galling for Loubet to not even start a gravel stage.
A water pump problem, detected after Thursday’s street stage, couldn’t be fixed with no Friday morning service and Loubet was forced to park up on the way to SS2. And that was it for his entire weekend.
“We were hoping to go out [again],” M-Sport team principal Richard Millener told DirtFish.
“But his agreement with us has multiple factors that get involved in that, and the decision was made between a lot of parties. He didn’t feel like he was able to go out and be focused enough on the event, and he was obviously very disappointed yesterday [Friday].
“So unfortunately the decision was made between the group to not continue. That’s the extra challenges that come with the setup that we have.”
Out of context, second place for Greensmith was a good result. After a period of difficult rallies, the Briton finally returned to the WRC2 podium.
But as he shrewdly pointed out, the one driver he could have done with beating was Mikkelsen. And Mikkelsen’s the one driver that got him.
That’ll be particularly galling for Greensmith, who never really had a fair chance to fight with a mixture of issues throughout the weekend including setup, brakes and the differential.
Would he have had enough to repel Mikkelsen’s awesome charge? Who knows, but given he held the lead – and was even reinstated there after Saturday’s notional times were adjusted – this has to be considered a missed opportunity for Greensmith. Regardless of whether it was of his doing or not.