RED BULL SPORTS – Kalle Rovanperä is on a quest to secure back-to-back EKO Acropolis Rally Greece (8 – 11 September) victories as he bids to clinch the 2022 FIA World Rally Championship title.
This week’s Lamia-based fixture presents the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver with his second opportunity to become the youngest-ever WRC champion. On paper, he could have sealed the deal at last month’s Ypres Rally Belgium – but a Friday morning roll put paid to any celebration hopes.
When the Acropolis returned to the calendar last year following a 13-year sabbatical, Rovanperä put on a dominant display to win by over 40 seconds.
He carries a 72-point lead over Hyundai Motorsport rival Ott Tänak into this 10th round and, to stand any chance of taking the title on Sunday, must outscore Tänak by at least 18 points. But that won’t be easy.
Punishing gravel tracks in the mountains north of Athens have earned the Acropolis its reputation as the ‘Rally of Gods’ and the event demands as much respect today as it did when it first featured in 1973.
To be successful here, drivers must measure their pace accordingly – pushing when safe to do so whilst also taking care of their machinery on the rocky terrain.
“Belgium was a difficult weekend for us, so in Greece we just need to get back at the level where we should be and try to have a good rally,” Rovanperä said.
“The championship is never over until it’s over, so we can’t think about it too much. We’re just trying to get good points from each event and control what we can.”
Rovanperä is joined in GR Yaris Rally1 cars by Elfyn Evans and Esapekka Lappi. Although Evans remains mathematically in contention for the drivers’ title, his sights will be set on helping the Japanese marque extend its 88-point lead in the manufacturers’ series.
Tänak is targeting his third consecutive win and teams up with Hyundai i20 N colleagues Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo. Neuville can only keep himself in the title hunt if he outscores Rovanperä by at least eight points, while Sordo’s outing marks the Spaniard’s first since Italy in June.
“We are feeling positive after our win in Ypres,” Tänak explained. “Going from Tarmac to gravel is a big change, but we know we can be strong on this surface after our wins in Italy and Finland.”
Craig Breen spearheads M-Sport Ford’s attack. The British squad fields five Puma cars, with Breen joined by returning nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb, Gus Greensmith, Pierre-Louis Loubet and Greek privateer Jourdan Serderidis.
Adrien Fourmaux was due to drive a sixth Puma but withdrew his entry due to the damage his car sustained during a crash in Belgium.
The rally starts in Athens on Thursday evening when, for the first time since 2006, the capital’s Olympic Stadium hosts a super special stage. Three more days of competition around Loutraki and Lamia follow before Sunday afternoon’s finish after 16 stages covering 303.30km.