Despite criticism that the EKO Acropolis Rally had lost its tough character upon returning to the FIA World Rally Championship in 2021, the longest day of the 2023 edition proved otherwise. After several leaders in the classification retired, it was Kalle Rovanpera who rose to the top, having previously managed to keep calm and avoid risks.
It was the longest and toughest day of the event, but everyone was aware of what was to come. The itinerary for Saturday was clear: Pavliani, Karoutes, Eleftherohori. These three iconic Greek special stages were to be run twice, with varying road conditions that included both dry and muddy surfaces. The result can be described with a few simple words, like punctures and broken suspensions, but also ups and downs in the overall classification until the end of the leg. Despite the challenges, it was undoubtedly an exciting day.
After the recent rainfall, the crews were uncertain about the road conditions they would face and, as expected, tyres’ selection was a challenge for all. However, Thierry Neuville, who was leading since yesterday, proved that he had made the right choice for his Hyundai i20 N Rally1, as he successfully completed the first pass. But, almost unexpectedly, in the second passage from special stage Pavliani the front right suspension of the i20 N broke, forcing the Belgian to retire. Sebastien Ogier, who had been second since yesterday, took the lead in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, but Kalle Rovanpera was not far behind. While everyone expected a battle between the two, on the last stage of the day (Eleftherohori) the French eight-time World Champion saw the suspension of his Toyota GR Yaris collapse, losing all hope of victory.
Driving wisely throughout the day, his young teammate, Kalle Rovanpera, took the lead, even enjoying a safety gap over second Dani Sordo. The Spanish Hyundai driver managed to stay clear of punctures and problems, with his strategy paying off in the end. This was not the case for Elfyn Evans (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1), who lost valuable time due to a mechanical problem -which was repaired at the midday service- and also had a puncture on SS11 - Karoutes.
A series of problems encountered by most of the drivers, resulted in Ott Tanak climbing fourth in the Ford Puma Rally1. The Estonian driver can only be satisfied with his performance after experiencing a disastrous day yesterday. It was a particularly challenging day for Esapekka Lappi (Hyundai i20 N Rally1), because he lost time due to a transmission problem, as it was for Takamoto Katsuta in the fourth GR Yaris, who had two punctures in one special stage.
The situation in WRC2 was quite similar. Nikola Gryazin, who was driving a Skoda Fabia RS, was out of the race early due to a broken steering arm. Yohan Rossel, on the other hand, had a crash which caused him to drop out of the first place. As a result, Andreas Mikkelsen, who had suffered from three punctures the day before, made a comeback and eventually ended up leading the category at the end of the day.
However, he is separated by just 0.4 seconds from Gus Greensmith in a Skoda Fabia RS, which means that their battle is not yet over.
The championship battle in the Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) is still ongoing and the winner will likely be determined on the last special stage. Laurent Pellier had to retire due to mechanical issues, which helped Diego Dominguez take the lead. At the same time, William Creighton is still in the running for the title.
The EKO Acropolis Rally, however, showed no mercy even to the Greek crews. The most resounding retirement was that of the leader up to that moment, Lambros Athanassoulas (Hyundai i20 N Rally2), who crashed during the second special stage of the leg (Karoutes 1). Alexandros Tsouloftas (Volkswagen Polo Rally2), who restarted today under Superally status, had the same fate during the first run in Pavliani. Thus, first among the Greek crews is Iordanis Serderidis with the Ford Puma Rally1, while Chrysostomos Karellis follows in second place with the Citroen C3 Rally2. Nontas Karanikolas with the Ford Fiesta Rally3 rounded off the top-3. In the RC4 category, the car leading is the Peugeot 208 Rally4 of Savvas Lefkaditis.
The final day of the EKO Acropolis Rally may be the shortest in kilometers, however nothing can be considered guaranteed.
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