FIA EUROPEAN RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND 3 OF 8
*Third event of the season takes FIA European Rally Championship crews to Greece and the SEAJETS Acropolis Rally, one of the most iconic events on the international calendar.
*First run in 1952, the rally returned to the ERC roster in 2014 – when Craig Breen gave Peugeot’s 208 T16 its first competition win – having last formed part of the ERC schedule back in 1968.
*Former winners during the world championship era include Sébastien Loeb, Colin McRae, Walter Röhrl, Carlos Sainz and Ari Vatanen.
*Thirteen top-of-the-range R5 cars appear on this season’s entry, which is headed by ERC leader Bruno Magalhães and also includes defending champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz, plus former Dakar victor and multiple Middle East title winner Nasser Al-Attiyah.
*Counting for ERC1, ERC2, ERC3 and ERC Ladies’ Trophy points, the 63rd SEAJETS Acropolis Rally is also a scoring round of the FIA European Rally Championship for Teams, which has been streamlined for this season with one title only up for grabs.
*Bruno Magalhães leads the overall standings by 17 points after netting a win and a third place from the first two events. He has concluded a late deal to drive a SEAJETS-liveried ŠKODA Fabia R5 on a rally he last tackled in 2015 when he retired with suspension failure.
*With Luis Pimentel not including the SEAJETS Acropolis Rally on his roster of events (drivers count their best six scores from a possible eight under new rules for 2017), his ERC2 title advantage will be under threat in Greece with drivers like Tibor Érdi Jr, Zelindo Melegari and Sergey Remennik waiting to pounce.
*It’s a similar situation in ERC3 with Chris Ingram focusing on the ERC Junior-scoring rounds only, leaving Buǧra Banaz to capitalise.
*Sixteen registered ERC drivers appear on the SEAJETS Acropolis Rally entry with 10 in R5 cars.
*The route of this year’s SEAJETS Acropolis Rally is virtually the same as in 2016 with just the Gravia stage tweaked, having been shortened by 890 metres.
*Amfissa, which like Gravia is visited twice on Saturday 3 June, has been part of event folklore since the 1970s when it was called Karoutes and run downhill.
*Elatia/Karya is the longest of the rally at 33.86 kilometres with the opening 10 kilometres reminiscent of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb course in America. It’s run twice on Sunday and counts as the rally’s final stage.
*While the stages in the spectacular Central Greece region around Lamia offer a significant driving challenge thanks largely to their mix of fast and slow sections, road surfaces are far less rough than they were when the event was based in Loutraki between 2009 and 2015.
*The National Trade Fair site in Lamia not only hosts the rally’s permanent service park but also the ceremonial start and finish.
*After winning last time out on Rally Islas Canarias, Alexey Lukyanuk had been expected to challenge for more ERC gold in Greece. However, a testing crash in his native Russia recently left him with multiple injuries and forced his withdrawal.
*While the SEAJETS Acropolis Rally is not an ERC Junior event, two young drivers from the series, Nikolay Gryazin and Buǧra Banaz, will both be in action in Greece. Gryazin drives for the same Sports Racing Technologies team that guided Ralfs Sirmacis to SEAJETS Acropolis Rally glory in 2016.
*Of the Greek drivers tackling the international rally, George Philippedes is the reigning national champion and regarded as being fast and experienced in equal measure.
*Multiple Middle East rally champion, Dakar winner and Olympic medallist Nasser Al-Attiyah will start the SEAJETS Acropolis Rally fresh from contesting Rally Kazakhstan, a round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
*Respective Polish and Turkish title holders, Grzegorz Grzyb and Murat Bostanci, will chase ERC1 points, as will GT racer turned rally driver Albert von Thurn und Taxis and ERC stalwart Antonín Tlusťák.
*In addition to Buǧra Banaz, Castrol Ford Team Turkey’s ERC3 line-up features newcomers Umitcan Ozdemir and Ismet Toktas.
1: The late Colin McRae remains the most successful driver in Acropolis Rally history with five wins.
2: Event base Lamia is the sister city of Rzeszów, venue of Poland’s round of the ERC in August.
3: Evidence from archaeological excavations suggest Lamia’s first inhabitants arrived in the Bronze Age.
4: Since the event’s return to the ERC in 2014, three different car makes have celebrated victories.
5: Essential ingredients for the perfect Greek salad are tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, feta cheese and Kalamata olives seasoned with salt, oregano and dressed with olive oil. Best served with warm pita bread.
ERC1: Kajetan Kajetanowicz: “The Acropolis Rally is a good character lesson and the previous edition proved that you must never give up in rallies. Unpredictable situations and plenty of crucial details underline the beauty of this sport and this is why I am absolutely focused on my preparations, in order to foresee as many variables as possible. After exceptionally difficult rounds in the Azores and Canary Islands the whole LOTOS Rally Team face a busy month: just two weeks after Greece we will be fighting in Cyprus. I believe in every single member of our team because I know their potential and I know that we share a common goal.”
ERC2: Sergey Remennik: “After two events we are sharing second place in ERC2 with Tibor Érdi with Luis Pimentel leading the class despite his misfortune in Spain. The Acropolis is on gravel and we feel much more confident on gravel, as we are more experienced on gravel and snow, not Tarmac. Tarmac appeared to be not easy to tackle, though really interesting. On the last event in Spain we have gained valuable Tarmac experience, shown good pace and won all the stages of day two. This is the result of training with Alexey Lukyanuk. We will miss Alexey in Greece, as he is still recovering from the horrible accident but we hope for his recovery soon. So, right now we are training on our own, and Alexey consults us remotely. But for some time we will be the only representatives of the RPM team.”
ERC3: Buǧra Banaz: “I was a stranger in the first two ERC events but that's not the case in Acropolis. I finished second in the front-wheel-drive category last year and I feel we can be even more competitive this year. This is an event that comes as close as possible to my home rallies and I want to improve my position in ERC3 class with a good result.”
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016?
Young Latvian Ralfs Sirmacis secured an incredible win on the legendary SEAJETS Acropolis Rally on his first start at the top level of the FIA European Rally Championship. The 21-year-old was competing in his first rally in an R5-specification car after stepping up from the ERC Junior Championship, where he was runner-up in 2015. He won the first stage in his Sports Racing Technologies-run, ŠKODA Baltic Motorsport-backed Fabia R5 on MICHELIN tyres and led at the end of every test, headed only overnight when Alexey Lukyanuk had a penalty for a jump start rescinded on Saturday evening. Two seconds separated Lukyanuk and Sirmacis at the start of day two and a puncture for the Russian on SS7 handed the advantage back to the newcomer. Worse was to come for Lukyanuk, who lost 17 minutes on the mammoth 33.86-kilometre SS9 fixing a broken suspension arm on his Ford Fiesta R5. Sirmacis kept his cool to stretch his margin to 2m10.3s and clinch a special victory for himself and co-driver Arturs Šimins, who was also celebrating his 26th birthday. Greek hero Lambros Athanassoulas turned a 19.5s deficit to Jaromír Tarabus into a 35-second advantage and inherited second when Lukyanuk hit trouble. However, he got caught behind a slower car on the very last stage and was in tears at the finish, fearing his dream result had slipped away. In the end, he held on to second over Tarabus by just one tenth of a second in an incredible climax. Athanassoulas therefore went one better than he managed on the 2015 event, as did Tarabus, who scored his first ERC podium since 2013. Athanassoulas was later given back 32s after being unfairly obstructed. Raul Jeets, team-mate to Sirmacis at SRT, scored his best ever ERC finish in fourth after a consistent rally and completed a lock-out of the top four places for the ŠKODA Fabia R5 on an event that lived up to its reputation as a car breaker. Jarosław Kołtun was sixth with Tomasz Kasperczyk seventh and Kajetan Kajetanowicz eighth. The defending ERC champion lost 15 minutes when he rolled on the very first stage of the rally, but won eight stages. He eventually outscored rival Lukyanuk by three points, with the Russian ending up 20 minutes in arrears after a further turbo problem on the penultimate stage, but 10th overall. Wojciech Chuchała won ERC2 ahead of Jose Luis Jacquet Rios and Tibor Érdi Jr. Murat Bostanci’s path to the ERC3 victory was eased when Łukasz Pieniążek dropped out with a broken gearbox on the last of Saturday’s stages.
THE RALLY IN 100 WORDS
Greece made a successful return to the ERC in 2014 following a lengthy spell away when the seaside town of Loutraki on the banks of the Gulf of Corinth hosted the 60th running of the legendary event. Having last appeared on the ERC schedule in 1968, Greece’s comeback featured one day on fast asphalt roads and the second leg on more traditional rough gravel tracks. Now run in partnership with the OMAE Greek motorsport federation on gravel only, the 2016 event marked a return to Lamia after a break of 10 years, which meant the re-introduction of classic gravel stages.
EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local and subject to change)
Starts: 18h30, Friday 2 June, Service Park, National Trade Fair, Lamia
Finishes: 16h04, Sunday 4 June, Service Park, National Trade Fair, Lamia
Headquarters: Service Park, National Trade Fair, Lamia
Service park: National Trade Fair, Lamia
ERC appearances (since 2004 restructuring): 3 (2014-2016)
Stage distance: 229.74 kilometres (103.86 kilometres leg one, 126.68 kilometres leg two)
Liaison: 456.63 kilometres
Total: 686.37 kilometres
Surface: Mainly gravel with some asphalt on SS8/11, SS9/12