Mud provided an unexpected challenge for Ford World Rally Team’s drivers as today’s marathon opening leg of the Acropolis Rally of Greece continued. Yesterday’s rain made the second section of speed tests unseasonably wet, adding an unexpected challenge for Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila and team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson.
Latvala retained second place in his Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car as this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship returned to the coastal town of Itea for a brief 15-minute service. Solberg dropped from third to fourth after puncturing a rear left tyre when his car struck a rock, but the 37-year-old Norwegian is just 16.8sec from the lead.
Both drivers again opted for Michelin’s hard compound tyres for the 23.17km Bauxites and the 22.00km Drossohori stages, two of the rally’s classic tests. The relatively smooth Bauxites was muddy only in parts but the uphill Drossohori, characterised by 19 hairpin bends, was far wetter.
Latvala, fastest on the rally’s opening three tests, was fourth in Bauxites and third in Drossohori, the 27-year-old Finn feeling less comfortable in the mud.
“It was surprisingly damp and I didn’t have enough traction,” he said. “The tyres didn’t warm up quickly enough at the start of the stage and the car understeered. Once they had heated up then I was able to pull time back. I’ll change the set-up now to better suit the conditions.
“I carried two spare wheels and in hindsight perhaps one would have been better. Both stages contained plenty of uphill sections and I think the extra 25kg from a second spare made a difference. It’s normal to carry two spares in Greece because of the high tyre wear in the heat, but temperatures are cooler than usual and the tyres aren’t wearing as much,” he added.
Solberg finished third in Bauxites and fifth in Drossohori, losing time on the final section after his car’s underbody struck a rock in a compression following a crest. The impact damaged the rear left wheel rim and punctured the tyre. “It was a huge shock,” said Solberg. “The impact threw the car into the air and I was lucky to keep it on the road. The incident cost about 10sec because of the puncture, but this is a long rally and it’s still wide open.”
The incident bent the rear suspension but the team straightened it in service before Solberg left for the final three stages of the leg.
Leaderboard after stage 6 of 22
1. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen DS3 1hr 30min 05.3sec
2. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 30min 15.4sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Citroen DS3 1hr 30min 20.3sec
4. P Solberg/C Patterson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 30min 22.1sec
5. E Novikov/D Giraudet RUS Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 31min 20.9sec
6. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 31min 25.9sec
7. O Tänak/K Sikk EST Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 32min 10.4sec
8. T Neuville/N Gilsoul BEL Citroen DS3 1hr 32min 19.3sec
9. M Prokop/Z Hrůza CZE Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 33min 21.1sec
10 S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Skoda Fabia S2000 1hr 33min 34.1sec