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June 6 - 9
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The Japanese manufacturers once again dominated the latest round of the World Rally Championship. Peugeot and Ford both showed promise early on in the rally, but their cars did not last the course. Is it at all surprising that Japanese cars are renowned for their reliability? Of course. reliability is not the only issue in the Acropolis Rally. Strength and ruggedness are the deciding factors whether a car will finish or not. Finishing in a decent position is another thing! The drivers must be super-fit as they deal with extremely high temperatures, and their strategy must be military-precise. Position on the road is another crucial factor in a driver's performance. That, perhaps was the most important last week, as the Greek roads came under criticism for being too rocky:

"The car has stood up remarkably well to stages that have been rougher than the Safari Rally in places. Although the roads should not be quite so rough tomorrow, we'll have to make a decision on when to push hard and when to take it easy. This rally will be one decided by strategy not just by outright speed" - Colin McRae.

Burns drove with style and cunning to clinch his first victory of the season Photograph provided by Subaru

Finn Marcus Gronholm set a surprise fastest time on day one in the new Peugeot 206 WRC. This car has been under development for as long as the Focus but the team have had quite a few more teething problems. This is only the car's second rally, and its first loose surface event, so it is quite a surprise to see it beat the established players. Day one, however, is not really representative of the rally as a whole as it comprises of a super special stage, set up to please the crowds of spectators. That it did with only 1.5 seconds separating the top 10 drivers. Positions at end of day one were Gronholm (Peugeot), Loix (Mitsubishi), Sainz (Toyota), Auriol (Toyota), McRae (Ford) and Radstrom (Ford). An exciting rally beckoned.
McRae and Grist charged ahead in the second stage of the rally to a fastest time of 20:38. Teammate Radstrom was not far behind in second place. It was, however to be Richard Burns' day, indeed, rally. Burns set no fewer than 4 fastest stage times in leg one (8 stages in total) and a further 8 fastest throughout the 21 stage rally. As we mentioned in the Argentina review, something is finally going right for the Subaru Impreza this year. The end of day two was a crucial moment in Burns' tactics though.

The Briton deliberately cheched in three minutes late at the final time control relegating him to 4th place after a 30 second penalty. This promoted McRae to first, and left many wondering at Burns' sanity. It was intact though. As I mentioned earlier, running order is important in Greece. If you are first on the road then you have to deal with the large rocks first, effectively acting as a road-sweeper for everybody else behind. This job was given to McRae on day two.

Radstrom fell foul of the road condition on stage six. Radstrom hit a large rock, resulting in a damaged sump and an oil leak. The resultant draining of the oil caused terminal engine failure. Radstrom had this to say:

"I had a great deal of confidence from the start, the car felt good and we tackled those rough stages in a positive mood. I'm obviously disappointed to retire but the damage was such that we had to stop, but it's better to retire having led than having struggled at the wrong end of the leaderboard."

The Focus was quick as usual but neither McRae nor Radstrom finished Photograph provided by Ford
McRae's disadvantage at leading the field was apparent as he slipped from first place to fifth overall on the second stage of the second leg of the rally. He fought hard however to recover to fourth position by the penultimate stage of the day. Then McRae's Xtrac gearbox failed, allowing the Scot only first. He was forced to retire as he was too far from the next service. Disappointment all round then for Ford. Burns meanwhile made full use of his road position to regain first place for Subaru. Kankkunen, Delecour (Peugeot 206 WRC) and Makinen swapped fastest times with Burns but nobody else was as consistent.
Sainz flew but a puncture hampered his challenge for the lead Photograph provided by Toyota
The final day's racing consisted of just five stages - the same as those run in leg one. Although greeted by less loose gravel on the roads, the conditions were nevertheless hazardous with car-breaking rocks protruding from the rutted surface. Sainz was on an all-out assault to overhaul Richard Burns, but his charge was hampered with a puncture in the opening section. With too much time lost to the flying Briton, Carlos and Luis were unable to seriously challenge but finished more than two and a half minutes ahead of third-placed Tommi Makinen.

An eventful rally then, with the points going to some drivers not usually in the top six - Martin in his Toyota Corolla WRC for instance. Skoda also scored their first WRC points with the Octavia, which appears to be tough if not as fast as its rivals. At least both cars finished! The same can not be said for Ford or Peugeot, although they are both new cars. These will be the ones to watch next year!

The next rally is in New Zealand - we hope to have some of Neil Blackbourn's fantastic photographs from that round - in July. We will give you a full rally report on July 24.

Click here to view the championship standings to date.
1 Richard Burns / Robert Reid Subaru Impreza WRC 99
2 Carlos Sainz / Luis Moya Toyota Corolla WRC
3 Tommi Makinen / Risto Mannisenmaki Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V
4 Freddy Loix / Sven Smeets Mitsubishi Carisma GT
5 Martin Toyota Corolla WRC
6 Leonidas Kirkos / John Stavropoulos Ford Escort WRC
Rally of Argentina Rally New Zealand

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