Hyundai Motorsport will be going for gold this weekend at the gruelling Acropolis Rally following consecutive top-three finishes in Estonia and Finland.
Image supplied by Hyundai South Africa
The gravel event is the tenth round of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and takes place in Lamia, Greece.
One of the most unique and exhilarating events on the calendar, the Acropolis Rally featured in the WRC’s inaugural season and quickly established itself as one of the most challenging rallies for both crew and car. The rough and rocky mountain roads, paired with this year’s scorching hot temperatures, are sure to produce an even tougher competition than usual – tailored suspension and ride heights will be essential in preventing cars from sustaining rally-ending damage.
Last season, the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team expertly navigated the abrasive gravel stages to a historic 1-2-3 finish, with Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe on the top, and Dani Sordo and Cándido Carrera rounding out the rostrum in third. It was a dominant display by the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid cars, carrying its crews to 9 stage victories.
The team’s third crew in the line-up, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm, have contested the Greek event previously in both the WRC and European Rally Championship, with a best result of fourth place in the latter series. They have also displayed strong pace at this season’s pervious gravel rallies and will be hoping to bounce back after a disappointing Rally Finland.
The Acropolis Rally is renowned for its unique and impressive super special stages which kick off the event in style. The 2023 edition will commence in front of a new scenic backdrop, as the crews take on a 1,48 km seaside stage on Thursday evening. Fourteen lengthy stages will follow, with the entire itinerary covering a total distance of 308 km, with three clear splits in surface conditions.
Thoughts from the co-driver’s seat
Greece is home to some of the most demanding stages on the calendar for co-drivers. However, the often overlooked road sections also pose a challenge in the heat of the Mediterranean sun, as Ferm explains:
“There are many long road sections at the Acropolis Rally, so you need to stay focused throughout the day, even between stages. This is made harder when you have high temperatures, as it can be quite exhausting in the car. But I have actually always liked the hot rallies, so for me and Esapekka the heat is not something we are too worried about.”
Hyundai Motorsport team principal Cyril Abiteboul said:
“Following a podium in Finland and a dominant performance here last year, we are feeling confident for the Acropolis Rally. An exciting battle for Teemu on Rally Finland’s Sunday showed how competitive the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid has become, and Thierry’s success in second shows that we are getting closer to our goal. Nevertheless, we continue to push the limits to keep developing the car and close the gap to Toyota. Our dream for this weekend is ultimately to have a repeat of last year's results; at a minimum we are targeting all cars finishing in the top five.”
Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe
“I would rate the Acropolis Rally as one of the harder events on the WRC calendar. It’s a bit of an endurance race across three days, three different areas, three different types of stages, which all feature rough conditions and hot temperatures. You need reliability, a strong car and the right setup for every challenge; if you can be comfortable in the car in every circumstance, it’s easier to go fast.”
Crew Notes: Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm
“After the Safari Rally Kenya, the Acropolis Rally is the toughest event of the season. It hasn’t been too gruelling in previous years as they have made a lot of repairs to the roads. However, it is either really tough or very hot, and sometimes it’s even both, and that is what makes this rally special. It’s very demanding for the tyres and brakes, and the drivers as well, as we have to keep hydrated. You need to stay out of trouble and try to keep the car on the clean lines to get maximum grip all the time.”
Crew Notes: Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera
“The Acropolis Rally is really rough, which is becoming more typical for these types of gravel rallies. In general, there is a lot of grip, because the surface is quite hard on the tyres. Usually we run the car a little higher in Greece than at other events because of the surface and the stones. It’s not a big change, but it just gives a little more protection to the car. We are expecting hot weather which will also add to the challenge.”
Weekend at a glance
After shakedown on Thursday morning, the Acropolis Rally starts that evening with the brand-new 1,48 km EKO Super Special Stage.
Friday will open with the scenic SS2 Loutraki 1 (18,10 km), a stage set amongst Greek mountains and dirt tracks followed by SS3 Pissia (16,43 km), a second loop of Loutraki, SS5 Livadia (21,03 km) and SS6 Elatia (28,32 km) to close the day.
Saturday’s running will consist of six stages, including two passes of the weekend’s longest challenge: Karoutes (28,49 km). Three final tests on Sunday, including the 19,77 km SS15 Grammeni 2 Power Stage, will bring the event to a close.