DAY REPORT: 2014 FIA European Rally Championship, round three of 12 Acropolis Rally (Greece)
Sun 30.03.14, 9:09AM
Round three of the FIA European Rally Championship, the legendary Acropolis Rally, is set for a thrilling climax when it switches to gravel on Sunday.
Craig Breen holds top spot after the opening Tarmac leg, but a debut ERC win for Peugeot’s 208T16 is far from guaranteed with Bryan Bouffier and Kajetan Kajetanowicz close behind in Greece.
Bouffier took an early lead after he won the opening stage in his Citroën DS3 RRC. But the number one seed hit trouble when he struck a rock cutting a corner on the next stage and punctured his front-right tyre in the process. Bouffier’s delay handed first place to Kevin Abbring, who was quickest through the test in the second Peugeot Rally Academy-entered 208 T16.
Despite almost spinning at a hairpin on stage three, Abbring was in front at midday service in Loutraki. “I was focused but I pulled the handbrake too aggressively and we nearly spun,” said the Dutch driver. “But the car has been perfect, a big surprise because it is so new. Me and the entire team can be very happy and I’m really pleased to be back competing at this level and being competitive too.”
Abbring was still leading by 5.8s after he collected his second stage win of the day on the fourth test. But with fluid leaking from the front of his car, the 25-year-old was already in trouble. He started the next stage but stopped during the run. And although he eventually reached the finish of Aghionori, his time loss was more than three minutes and he retired a high water temperature shortly afterwards.
“It’s very disappointing for Kevin but we must take our hats off to him and Peugeot for the job they were doing,” said Breen, whose advantage over second-placed Bouffier after Saturday’s closing stage stands at 14.7s. “But it’s a fantastic achievement that we have one car leading overnight so it’s a big pat on the back to the everyone involved. I don’t think there has been a debut like this. I’m very happy.”
Bouffier started Saturday’s final stage in third but overhauled Kajetanowicz for second by going 1.3s quicker than the Pole. “I don’t know if I could lead the rally without these mistakes but for sure I could be closer to the lead,” said the Frenchman. “The car has been perfect, the driver just needs to be better.”
Kajetanowicz’s only significant moment occurred on stage two when he overshot a junction on a slippery section. The multiple Polish title-winner is 0.3s behind Bouffier in his LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5.
European championship leader Esapekka Lappi is fourth overnight and eager for the rally to switch to gravel on Sunday after conceding that he couldn’t go any faster in his ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000 on the asphalt stages. “This is more or less the speed we can do and if I push more I will crash,” said the 23-year-old from Finland. “For sure my lack of experience on Tarmac makes a difference and I don’t have the confidence but also we don’t have the turbo compared to the others.”
After surviving a trip into a ditch on stage two, Sepp Wiegand was in fifth when he stopped on the rain-hit stage four after damaging his Fabia’s right-rear suspension. He will return on day two. But there were no such troubles for Vasily Gryazin, who holds fifth overnight in his Fiesta S2000.
Bruno Magalhães completes the top six on his international comeback following an absence of two years with Czech drivers Jaromír Tarabus and Jaroslav Orsák seventh and eighth respectively. Orsák started the final stage in front of his compatriot but lost out in the increasingly damp conditions.
South African Henk Lategan is ninth with Jean-Michel Raoux rounding out the top 10. However, Robert Consani has endured a day to forget in his Peugeot 207, which was hampered by a transmission issue in the morning. A front-right puncture on stage three and an off on stage five compounded the French driver’s frustration. He’s 16th overnight.
Tyre firms Michelin and Pirelli, who along with Yokohama are official ERC partners, have both been putting their products to the test on Saturday’s asphalt stages. Breen, Bouffier and Kajetanowicz are among Michelin’s leading representatives with Gryazin and Magalhães using Pirelli tyres.
ERC Production Car Cup: Érdi in control in Greece
Tibor Érdi Jr might have switched cars for his second appearance in this year’s ERC Production Car Cup, but he’s had little trouble adapting to the change of machinery judging by his performance on day one of the Acropolis Rally. The Hungarian started his ERC campaign in Austria in a Subaru Impreza but is now behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer E9 on the mixed-surface event in Greece. Despite an off-road moment on stage one, Érdi has been fastest in class on all six stages and heads Vitaliy Pushkar (Lancer E10) by more than one minute with Martin Hudec in third place. Charalambos Timotheou is fourth with Ioannis Zounis fifth and ERC Ladies’ Trophy pacesetter Ekaterina Stratieva in sixth.
ERC 2WD Championship: Bessenyey profits as Slavov drops out
Zoltán Bessenyey is on course to get his ERC 2WD Championship title defence back on track after he completed leg one of the Acropolis leading the two-wheel-drive division by 51.8s ahead of Alex Filip. Besseney moved in front when Todor Slavov damaged his Renault Clio R3 with an off on stage five. Slavov had suffered an early scare when he hit a rock in the road on the third stage and picked up an oil leak. Bessenyey’s day wasn’t without problems, however, after he reported a suspected electrical fault on his Eurosol Racing Team Hungary Honda Civic Type R. “The engine was stuttering a bit but it has been a good day for us,” he said. Filip, meanwhile, has impressed on his first of five planned starts in the ERC 2WD Championship. Simone Tempestini is a strong third on his debut in a Citroën DS3 R3T.
ERC Asphalt Master update: Breen heads the standings
Craig Breen is not only leading the Acropolis Rally at the completion of leg one – he’s also on top of the ERC Asphalt Master standings. Along with the ERC Gravel Master and ERC Ice Master accolades, the ERC Asphalt Master award recognises the achievements of surface specialists competing in the FIA European Rally Championship. The all-Tarmac first day in Greece is the first leg of the season to count for ERC Asphalt Master points. After the six Tarmac stages, Craig Breen has scored 37 points with Kevin Abbring and Bryan Bouffier both landing 32 points. Kajetan Kajetanowicz is next up on 20 points, Esapekka Lappi has 12, Sepp Wiegand three and Vasily Gryazin and Bruno Magalhães each with one point. Scores are awarded to the fastest five drivers on each stage on the basis of 10-6-4-2-1. ERC Gravel Master points are up for grabs on leg two. The next opportunity for drivers to score ERC Asphalt Master points is on next month’s Circuit of Ireland Rally.