1. Rovanpera’s brilliance, resilience and lucky “buckaroo” moment
Kalle Rovanpera may have inherited the rally lead after Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier suffered suspension failures, but the reigning world champion thoroughly deserved his third win of 2023.
The stats again outline what a special drive this was from the 22-year-old Toyota driver. Despite facing the disadvantage of starting first on the road, Rovanpera won eight of the 15 stages, but more importantly avoided any punctures or mechanical issues triggered by Greece’s unforgiving rough gravel roads.
But Rovanpera did ride his luck on Friday when a compression, caused by the deluge of water that ran through stage three earlier in the week, almost toppled his GR Yaris.
First to encounter the bump Rovanpera had to be alert to wrestle the car back after it was almost pitched into an end-over-end roll. As ever, the cool and calm Finn brushed off the moment and went on to win the stage. Team-mate Takamoto Katsuta and Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi were almost caught out by the same compression.
“You never really know what is going to happen in those moments,” said Rovanpera. “Everything happens quite quickly and I was just hoping that the car wouldn’t go over.”
2. Championship fight a two horse race as luck deserts Neuville
Neuville was 36 points adrift of Rovanpera heading into the weekend, but is now 66 points behind
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
The battle for the 2023 World Rally Championship is down to a two horse race, with Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville ruling himself out of the fight.
Neuville appeared on course to boost his slim title hopes after leading the Acropolis Rally heading into Sunday afternoon, before striking a hole that led to terminal suspension failure.
Neuville was 36 points adrift of Rovanpera heading into the weekend, but this latest misfortune, coupled with the latter claiming a maximum 30 points has left the Belgian 66 points adrift with 90 left on the table.
“Yeah, for sure,” Neuville told Motorsport.com, when asked if his title hopes are over.
“The chances were not that big but still with the result we were doing here, and if we finished like this, we would have increased our chances a bit more. But it is what is.
It appears the title is set to be a duel between Rovanpera and Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans.
Thankful to recover to second after a leaking radiator that could have ended his rally, the Welshman believes his 33-point deficit will likely require a Rovanpera mistake to lift his title prospects.
“Of course Kalle has taken away 30 points again which is obviously not ideal in terms of the big picture, but if we rewind the clocks to Saturday I thought I was packing up and going home,” Evans told Autosport.
“I think all things considered we have to be happy with second.
“It is big [points] gap and it needs to come down if we want to have chance to do it at the end of the year.
“It is not impossible but we start to go into the territory where he will need [Rovanpera} to make a little error here or there. We are going to have to win some rallies.”
3. Organisers going above and beyond
Storm Daniel left many wondering if the rally would happen at all
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
The fact the Acropolis Rally went ahead last week was simply down to an incredible effort from rally organisers to overcome extremely difficult circumstances.
Storm Daniel left many wondering if the rally would happen at all after torrential rain caused flash floods in the build-up.
Rally organisers ensured safety was paramount for not only competitors but the local communities dealing with the aftermath of the storm. Two stages were shortened while Thursday’s shakedown was rightfully cancelled due to the conditions.
Torrential rain had disrupted the recce schedule, while the extreme conditions made making accurate pacenotes impossible. The weather drastically improved since the drivers completed their original recce, which left roads in vastly different shape from earlier this week.
Following a request from drivers, rally organisers, in conjunction with the FIA, conducted special recce runs of the stages, using the WRC teams’ recce vehicles, to provide up to date videos and information regarding the road conditions.
These videos were issued to the teams the day before each leg of the rally begins to allow drivers and co-drivers to analyse the roads and anticipate the conditions they will face, and ensure safety wasn’t compromised.
4. Mikkelsen’s ultimate comeback
Andreas Mikkelsen’s surge to WRC2 glory further boosting his title hopes was the comeback of the rally
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
When it comes to recovery drives, Andreas Mikkelsen’s surge to WRC2 glory further boosting his title hopes was the comeback of the rally.
The Toksport Skoda driver was leading the WRC2 class and sitting ninth overall following Thursday night’s Athens super special stage, before it all went wrong on Friday.
Mikkelsen’s left rear tyre delaminated on stage two dropping him to 16th in class. A second left rear let go on the following stage, before his nightmare came to an end when amazingly a third left rear punctured on stage five.
The Norwegian began Saturday 12th in class more than two minutes adrift of then class leader Nikolay Gryazin.
What followed was one of the three-time WRC rally winner’s best displays in a rally car. Throwing caution to the wind he rocketed up the leaderboard to incredibly lead the class at the end of Saturday by 0.4s.
But there was adversity to come. Mikkelsen was awarded a notional time after stage 10 was red-flagged. This was later amended, pushing him back to 12.0s behind Gus Greensmith heading the final day.
Mikkelsen was not to be denied, overtaking Greensmith, who was battling mechanical issues with his Toksport Skoda, on the penultimate stage, to take a famous win by 10.3s.
“This is a special one, this is really a special one,” said Mikkelsen.
“After Friday everything looked so dark and we decided we had nothing to lose, we just said f*** it we go.
“We drove the fastest we could every corner the whole rally. We changed the rear diff in the last service, it was really on the limit but the guys [in the team] are incredible.”
5. Ireland’s new rally champion
William Creighton became the first Irishman to claim the FIA Junior WRC title since Craig Breen in 2011
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
It has been a desperately difficult year for rallying, and particularly Irish rallying, following the tragic loss of Craig Breen this year, but in Greece, there was some much needed joy.
William Creighton’s hard fought fifth place finished earned him the FIA Junior WRC title, becoming the first Irishman to win the championship since Breen’s triumph in 2011.
Beating the odds after retiring on Friday morning with radiator damage, Creighton and Liam Regan rejoined the action on Saturday and climbed the one-make Ford Fiesta Rally3 category leaderboard.
His mission was helped slightly when fellow championship challenger Laurent Pellier was sidelined by gearbox woes on the penultimate day. Creighton ended the season eight points clear of Diego Dominguez, winner of this final round, while the disappointed Pellier finished third in the series
“It’s unbelievable, honestly,” said Creighton. “After what happened on Friday, like it says on the car: ‘never give up’. We didn’t, but of course we knew there was going to be a slim chance and it was going to be difficult.
“We dug deep and tried and of course things went our way, but we also had to show good pace and stage wins. It’s crazy when you think about all the stage wins throughout the year, our win in Sweden and how tight that was. And now it’s come down to this, it’s just unbelievable.”
Despite facing the disadvantage of starting first on the road, Rovanpera won eight of the 15 stages
Photo by: Toyota Racing