EHRC - A battle between the eras on Historic Acropolis

  • Martin McCormack’s 1970s Ford Escort RS1800 battles with the 1990s Ford Sierra Cosworth 4x4 of Valter Pierangol at the top of the leader board
  • Star performers include Renault 5 Turbo of Eric Guignard and flying Škodas of different eras entered by Czech father and son, Oldrich Kovarik Jr and Sr

The 2023 FIA European Historic Rally Championship season has reached its grand finale in Greece on the Historic Acropolis Rally. The opening day delivered an electrifying tussle between the two-wheel-drive Ford Escort MkII RS1800 of Irishman Martin McCormack and his co-driver Barney Mitchell and the four-wheel-drive turbocharged Ford Sierra Cosworth 4x4 of Italian Valter Pierangoli and co-driver Sauro Farnocchia.

A 50-strong entry was drawn to one of the most historic and prestigious events on the calendar, using stages familiar to World Rally Championship fans across the generations. The EHRC contenders led the way over the start ramp at the magnificent ancient Acropolis in Athens before heading out into the rugged countryside beyond the city.

McCormack set the pace on the first timed special stage, fully 10 seconds faster than any other car on what the crews explained was to be the smoothest and fastest surface that they had found on the recce. Just how challenging the terrain could be was discovered on the next stage, where Pierangoli used his extra traction and power to win by more than 27 seconds and take the overall lead from McCormack.

Maintaining a watching brief was Northern Irish pairing Ernie and Karen Graham, third among the EHRC runners on both of the opening tests. A remote service at Thiva and brief stop to refuel gave the contenders a respite in the warm autumn sunshine before they ventured further up into the mountains for the third stage at Elikonas.

McCormack edged Pierangoli by four seconds, with Graham third once again as the competitors made their way down the dramatic cliffs to the picturesque seaside town of Itea, servicing on the seafront overlooking the Corinthian Gulf.

The fitting of light pods was crucial to the remaining stage of the day, with the cars being held in a two-hour parc fermé after service before being released back up into the hills to tackle the Voxites stage. McCormack unleashed a spellbinding performance in the darkness, taking 25 seconds and the overall lead away from Pierangoli.

The EHRC is effectively four championships in one, with Pierangoli leading Category 4 for the youngest cars in the rally, being built between 1982 and 1990. In hot pursuit and claiming fourth overall was the remarkable front-wheel-drive 1.6-litre Škoda Favorit driven with enormous gusto by Czech driver Oldrich Kovarik Jr and co-driver Marek Kapic.

McCormack and Graham held first and second in Category 3 for cars built between 1976 and 1981 with their Escorts, followed by the magnificent Renault 5 Turbo of Frenchman Eric Guignard and co-driver Didier Meffre. The mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive Renault was designed primarily for smooth asphalt events and only rarely made gravel appearances in period, but the challenge of taking on the legendary Acropolis stages has inspired the team who are delighted with their progress.

Also in Category 3 a spirited battle is being played out between the Volvo of experienced German husband-and-wife crew Siegfried and Renate Mayr and the Escort RS1800 of Scotsman Tom Coughtrie, co-driven by Alex Lee.

Category 2 for cars built between 1970 and 1975 is being contested only by Italian Paulo Pasutti and his co-driver in their magnificent Porsche 911 Carrera RS. If they can survive the rigours of the Greek stages then a well-deserved second place in the season-long points for the class can be achieved, a position currently held by the BMW 2002 ti of Czech driver Stanislav Budil.

Finally only one of the oldest category entrants has braved the notorious Acropolis stages, the Škoda Octavia Super of Oldrich Kovarik Sr, competing alongside his son in different eras of the Czech marque’s giant-killing rally cars and co-driven by Petr Dufek. Always popular among the rally cognoscenti, the venerable Škoda sits in 24th position overall, showing pace that belies its years.

The rally continues on Saturday morning with three stages before returning to the Itea service park. Two of the stages will be run again in the afternoon before the light pods are refitted and the leg ends with another dash after dark.