Today's third day of the EKO Acropolis Rally proved to be dramatic, ending with an absolute reversal in the general classification of the Rally. Hyundai, as expected, fought back and even managed to reap the rewards of this choice, with Thierry Neuville, Ott Tanak and Dani Sordo setting the 1-2-3, with only three stages remaining for the finish ramp.
The tough, technical stages of today's section strained once again crews and cars. After all, the “Rally of Gods” was never a piece of cake.
Adding to the roughness of the surfaces, was the high -even over 35ο C- temperature in the areas of the rally, elements that combined, pushed men, women and machinery to their limits – especially the hybrid Rally1 cars.
The day started with Hyundai counter-attacking, with Ott Tanak in particular, determined to gain positions in the overall classification, setting the fastest time on the first special stage and the longest of the Rally (Pyrgos, 33,20 km.). On the other hand, Sebastien Loeb was fast and managed to remain at the top even after the end of the second special stage but destiny wasn’t on his side, as he was forced to retire in liaison due to an alternator belt issue.
Most of the crews experienced minor or major problems. A puncture during SS9 (Perivoli 1) slowed down the amazing run of Pierre-Louis Loubet, who was the star of day one with his performance. During the same stage, Kalle Rovanpera had an off damaging the back end of his Yaris but, more importantly, losing more than 6 minutes.
As for Esapekka Lappi, he lost every chance for a podium position, having experienced a problem with the fuel pump during SS12 (Perivoli 2) that forced him to retire during the liaison.
On the contrary, Thierry Neuville benefited from a good pace, the right set-up and tyre choice, that promoted him to the rally lead after SS9. He managed to stay on top until the end of the day, thanks to three fastest times in consecutive stages. Ott Tanak was consistent and climbed second, 27,9 from the lead, followed by Dani Sordo.
The Spaniard may not have been among the fastest drivers during the rally but his consistency was enough to put him into contention for a podium place, having benefited from Lappi’s retirement. But this doesn’t mean he can be complacent, as Elfyn Evans is only 7,1 sec behind with his Toyota GR Yaris. Farther behind is Pierre-Louis Loubet, Craig Breen and Takomoto Katsuta. Among the most important retirements of the day, are those of Gus Greensmith and Jourdain Serderidis, both with Ford Puma Rally1.
In WRC2, Emil Lindholm managed to stay in the lead, plus he now enjoys a comfortable gap. Misfortune knocked on Teemu Suninen’s door. The Finn was forced to retire at the last stage of the day, due to a fuel pump issue. Therefore, Nikolay Gryazin climbed second, ahead of Yohan Rossel, who lost time due to a puncture. Alexandros Tsouloftas made an impression, and with his consistent pace, managed to climb to 4th in the category.
Moving on to the informal Greek classification, Lambros Athanassoulas and Nikolaos Zakchaios remain on top, however, they had to put in extreme effort, due to the fact that the driver recovers from a leg injury.
Meanwhile, the JWRC battles rage on, with Robert Virves still on top even if Jon Armstrong reduces the gap significantly. Since the title in the series of the future champions of the WRC will be decided on Greek soil, there is huge anticipation for the final battles among the two title contenders. The Irish William Creighton completes the Top-3.
Tomorrow’s final leg may seemingly be the shortest (45,06 km) but it is still, just as demanding. After all, one can never be sure of the result in the EKO Acropolis Rally, until reaching the finish ramp.
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