M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s emerging young talents, Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux, are gearing up to tackle Acropolis Rally of Gods for the first time this week as they take another tough test in their ongoing career development.
Ranked as one of the roughest and arduous events in rallying, the Acropolis returns to the FIA World Rally Championship from 9-12 September following an eight-year absence.
A founding round of the WRC back in 1973, the Greek gravel event is tough on drivers, cars and tyres with punishing temperatures, rock-coated and rock-lined roads and hanging dust combining to make Acropolis Rally of Gods a huge challenge.
Based in Lamia, 220 kilometres north of Athens, the event actually begins in the capital with a 0.98-kilometre street stage on Thursday evening following the ceremonial start under the ruins of the ancient Acropolis citadel.
Friday’s route takes crews west of the capital for the single-use Loutraki stage either side of two passes through Aghii Theodori. Loutraki also hosts a midday tyre fitting zone close to the spectacular Corinth Canal. Before returning to Lamia, the Thiva and Elatia stages complete the opening leg’s competitive action, which covers a distance of 89.40 kilometres.
While Friday’s leg will be tough, Saturday’s route south of Lamia will be tougher still with six stages over a timed distance of 132.56 kilometres in store. A tyre fitting zone in Itea follows the first of two visits to Pavliani plus one pass through Gravia. Classic Acropolis stages Bauxities and Eleftherohori are next followed by service in Lamia. Reruns of Eleftherohori and Pavliani round out the day’s action.
The deciding leg of round nine of the season on Sunday, which is based west of Lamia, features two runs through Tarzan and one visit to Pyrgos, the event’s longest stage at 33.20 kilometres. The second Tarzan test counts as the Power Stage and is due to begin at 13h18 local time. While Sunday’s route is limited in terms of the number of stages, at 69.25 kilometres it will be far from easy.
M-Sport has a strong record on the Acropolis with the British team celebrating no fewer than eight victories, including a hat-trick for Colin McRae between 2000-2002. A ninth victory by a driver in an M-Sport car was achieved in 2015 when Kajetan Kajetanowicz triumphed in a Ford Fiesta R5, the second of five seasons when the Acropolis counted as a round of the FIA European Rally Championship following its departure from the WRC after the 2013 edition.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“It’s another new rally for Gus and Adrien but there are some advantages with new stages and very little second usage, which is unlike most WRC events. We’re expecting faster roads and smoother conditions than we’ve been used to in the past, but we won’t get a true picture until after the recce and I have no doubt the event will throw up plenty of challenges.
“We start the event with our usual game plan of doing as best as we can and hoping Gus and Adrien can maximise their experience by reaching the finish. As with every rally, Gus is targeting a top-five finish and that’s realistic. Adrien will focus first on getting himself back up to speed following his crash in Ypres before aiming for a solid finish and more kilometres.
“As a team, we’ve enjoyed plenty of success on the Acropolis over the years and we’re all looking forward to returning to Greece and to a very important event for the WRC.”
Acropolis Rally of Gods represents unchartered territory for Greensmith, but the 24-year-old will look to strong results on similar rough gravel events, including his career-best fourth on Safari Rally Kenya in June, as he prepares for action. He will also count on co-driver Chris Patterson’s experience. The Irishman has 10 Acropolis starts to his name and his knowledge will be invaluable to Greensmith.
Gus Greensmith said:
“The Acropolis is on my list of events I want to do before I stop so it’s a rally I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time. I tend to enjoy rough rallies and I’ve done my best to prepare by watching old footage to get an idea of what it’s going to be like. I’ve also done nine days in a heat chamber in anticipation of the very high temperatures although the forecast is now for 30 degrees centigrade rather than 40, which is still warm but nothing out of the normal.
“If we compare the Acropolis to Turkey, we’ve seen that everyone is flat out all the way through. It means you have to commit in the rough stuff but also show a degree of mechanical sympathy because the bedrock will be hard for the suspension and the tyres. Usually when it’s rough anything can happen so it’s an exciting situation to be in.
“There are a lot of single-use stages, which means it won’t be as rough as it has been in previous years because you don’t have the second pass and we’ll have a good road position. Friday should therefore be a very good day for us and I plan to maximise the opportunities. We’ve got a good car for rough conditions and I feel we can have a very strong rally.”
Like Greensmith, the Acropolis is an all-new adventure for Fourmaux. But the Frenchman, 26, has experience on rough gravel rallies, such as Turkey and Kenya, where he scored his first WRC stage win back in June.
Adrien Fourmaux said:
“Like most of the time, it’s a new rally for me but I do remember playing it on PlayStation when I was younger! Some drivers have some experience, but it was eight years ago and the cars have changed a lot since then. I’m just trying to prepare as I do for the other rallies, working on the videos and my physical and mental training. We had an issue on the last rally in Belgium, so we want to go back to our positive attitude from the beginning of the season and keep taking the experience.
“The Acropolis is in the WRC next year, so we need to get the experience of all stages. I know it will be hot, really tough with big rocks in the middle of the road that you don’t expect. It will be a big challenge and you can expect punctures, maybe some mechanical damage.
“I will take the experience from Turkey and Safari, which can also help me with the set-up of the car. I was probably too careful with the car on the Safari on the Friday but I know more about the limits of the car on rough rallies, that it’s really, really strong. I know many things can happen on this type of event so I will do my rally, do my best and try to do some good stage times. But the most important thing is to be at the end with no issue and have a good result. It was a good rally for M-Sport in the past and hopefully it will be the same in 2021.”