Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
The summer break is over, and as we begin to welcome Autumn, we also welcome the return of the World Rally Championship, which now enters its final stages for 2023. And there’s no better way to start the final part of the season than with an absolute classic, the Acropolis Rally, now celebrating 70 years of running. Originally part of the first ever calendar in the sport’s inaugural season, back in 1973, the event has rightly earned a place in the WRC hall of fame, proving extremely popular with the fans, with over 60 thousand of them filling the Olympic Stadium in Athens last year, in order to see the super special stage. This year will witness a brand new super special stage, taking place at water square, on the riviera.
2022 proved to be a rally of attrition, with only five cars from the top class reaching the flag. Surprisingly, none of them were Toyotas. That is something Kalle Rovanperä will want to change for this year’s event. The 2021 winner holds a relatively slim 25 point advantage heading to Greece, having rolled out of contention in his home rally in Finland. A return to form is essential if he wants to maintain his championship chances.
Elfyn Evans made history last time out, becoming only the third non-Finn to achieve multiple wins at Rally Finland. His strong form means he’s a single rally win away from catching teammate Rovanperä in the fight for the championship. He’ll be hoping for better luck than last year, when his car failed him on the final day, robbing him of a potential podium place.
Two second place finishes in the last two rounds mean Thierry Neuville is still in touch with the Toyota duo out front, just 11 points adrift of Evans. The Belgian has shown excellent pace and maturity, staying out of trouble, and scoring the maximum points available to him. Winner here last year, this could be a big opportunity for the Hyundai driver to make further gains in the championship hunt, especially if others around him hit trouble.
Bad luck and mechanical problems in the last few rounds have left Ott Tänak a sizable 64 points behind leader Rovanperä in the title race. All is not lost for the Estonian, however, with 120 points still on offer from the final four rounds. The M-Sport driver finished second in 2022, but felt he could’ve won, had he not been held back by team orders from his then-team Hyundai, which certainly helped in his decision to leave the Korean manufacturer. This will be a make-or-break event for Tänak, who desperately wants to win, or at least stand on the podium for the first time since Croatia, way back in April.
Greece marks the return of two very established drivers — Sebastien Ogier and Dani Sordo. Both have tasted various degrees of success here in the past, Ogier even managing to win all the way back in 2011. Sordo’s most memorable moment in Greece was finishing third last year, completing the first ever Hyundai one-two-three finish in the process. The Frenchman and the Spaniard will be looking for a good result, especially Sordo, whose seat could be under threat for Teemu Sunninen, after the Finn’s strong performances in Estonia and Finland.
Esapekka Lappi has been improving with every passing rally, even if the results don’t always reflect the same. An off during Friday in Finland was an unfortunate setback, in what has been a relatively error free season so far, so EP will be looking to get back on the podium. After all, rough dirt rallies like the Acropolis are where the Finn excels, more often than not.
A few words of advice from Kalle Rovanperä at various points of the rally — and more than a few retirements — helped Takamoto Katsuta secure second place last time out in Finland, his first podium since his home event, back in Japan last season. Taka can hopefully use this new found momentum as motivation to achieve similar results at the final part of the season, and with Greece often having an abundance of retirements, the man from Japan could be one to watch.
It was a breakthrough rally here for Pierre-Louis Loubet last year, the Frenchman securing his first stage win, while also leading the rally at the end of Friday, ahead of countryman and then teammate Sebastien Loeb, before a puncture meant he had to settle for fourth, equalling his career-best finish. If things go his, and M-Sport’s way, Greece could serve as a launchpad to finally kick start the Frenchman's troubled first full season.
Completing the Rally1 line up is Jourdan Serderidis in his Ford Puma. The half-Greek half-Belgian will be hoping for a smooth home rally, and perhaps score a point or two, if others hit trouble. He will have to stay ahead of the WRC2 class, if he’s to capitalise on any top drivers’ misfortunes.
As always, the aforementioned WRC2 class is filled with potential winners. A lot of the heavy hitters have flown to Greece, in the hope of keeping their title chances alive. The list includes Andreas Mikkelsen, Yohan Rossel, Oliver Solberg, Gus Greensmith, Adrien Fourmaux, Nikolay Gryazin, and a swarm of others, all looking to impress the team bosses of the Rally1 teams.
This round also doubles up as the season finale for the JWRC. With double points on offer exclusively for this event, six drivers are still in the hunt to claim the crown, the winner set to receive the elusive chance to compete at four events, driving a Fiesta Rally2 for 2024.