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Every round of the World Rally Championship presents a tough challenge, but next weekend's Acropolis Rally of Greece is one of the most difficult of them all. A combination of searing heat, boulder-strewn gravel roads and difficult stage layouts make this a true survival of the fittest. With a nine-week break in the WRC year after this event, the Subaru World Rally Team is heading to the Mediterranean keen to end the first half of the season on a high.

Since the Safari Rally left the WRC calendar, Greece's round has assumed the mantle of 'the toughest rally'. Durability is often just as important as outright performance. The ambient temperature -- which can get as high as 40 degrees Celsius -- puts driver fitness at a premium, while the rough conditions of the mountain roads are demanding on the machinery and the crews. The dust thrown up by other competing cars and rocks on the racing line are among the potential hazards, so the teams have to pay particular attention to under-car protection and engine cooling. The risk of punctures on sharp rocks is also a major factor, and the team's tyre supplier BFGoodrich will offer a super-tough compound, introduced for the first time on the previous event in Sardinia, to suit the anticipated conditions.

The Acropolis Rally of Greece is one of the legendary events on the WRC calendar, albeit one that has experienced some major changes in a history that stretches back to the start of the World Rally Championship itself. In 2005 there was a major change in the event's format. The rally had been based in central Greece, around the town of Lamia, 200km north of Athens, but two years ago it shifted its base to the Athens Olympic Stadium complex.

The move meant the rally organisers could incorporate some new special stages into the route, using some roads in the hills to the north and west of Greece's capital city. For 2007 the base of the rally has moved once again -- this time to the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Markopoulo, 30km south of Athens -- but some of last year's special stages remain, mixed with a selection of roads that are new to the drivers. One stage, Agii Theodori, measures a monstrous 48.88km and uses a combination of familiar sections and unknown roads. It is the longest special stage used so far this year, eclipsing the 46.02km St Pierreville -- Antraigues test used on Rallye Monte Carlo.

The Olympic Equestrian Centre -- which hosted the horse racing and horseback riding contests during the 2004 Olympic Games -- will play host to the rally headquarters, the service park, and the ceremonial start and finish. Within the horse racing track a 3.3km gravel Super Special Stage has been designed. This stage, which will open the rally at 1900hrs on Thursday 31 May and close it at 1430hrs on Sunday 3 June, has a mirror-image layout and the two-driver, head-to-head format will whip the passionate Greek rally fans into a frenzy.

The scheduled SS9/20, Imittos, has been cancelled at late notice and so 21 of the planned 23 special stages will now be run. The organisers have altered the route accordingly and the competitive distance for the rally is 334.44km. The crews will also tackle 1237.89km of road driving, meaning the overall event distance is 1572.33km.


The Subaru World Rally Team has entered two Impreza WRC2007s for the eighth round of the World Rally Championship. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills will drive car number seven, while Chris Atkinson/Stephane Prevot will drive car number eight. Petter and Phil have contested the event six times with Subaru: in addition to a win in 2004, they have also finished second (2001), third (2003), fifth (2002) and seventh (2006). This will be Chris's third time in Greece (albeit his first with Stephane Prevot as his co-driver) and the Australian is aiming to use the experience gained on the Greek stages in 2005 and 2006 to secure a solid points finish. The Subaru World Rally Team has a record of five wins in the past 13 seasons in Greece.

Team quotes

Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director:

"We're in the middle of a test at the moment, and it's difficult to set precise targets for Greece until we've assessed the results of our three days in Wales. The close proximity of the Acropolis Rally to the previous event in Sardinia, allied to the fact that we have to use the same car for both events, means that we won't have much time to implement improvements to the car, so we're anticipating that the changes in Greece will be small. However we have a very good engineering plan for the summer break and also expect to utilise some extra engineering resources to help our development move forward at a faster rate. I'd expect to see significant progress by the time the WRC reconvenes for Rally Finland in August."

Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director:

"We're heading to Greece a little earlier than usual -- we have to use the same car for this event as we did in Sardinia, so we'll rebuild the cars down there, rather than back at base. The build-up to the event has been very wet. I don't think it is going to be as rough as the Acropolis was last year. The stages have received more work since last year and seem to have held up despite the poor weather. Nevertheless it will be a tough event, and Saturday is going to be more like rallies were in the past -- we've got a 48km stage and two remote service halts, so the team will be chasing the rally cars around the country. There could be as many as 20 World Rally Cars on this event, so there will be a lot of competition for points. We need to make sure we stay consistent all the way through."

Petter Solberg:

"We've been working hard to develop the car in Wales this week, so hopefully we'll see an improvement when we get to Greece next weekend. I think we also need a change of luck! Of course this event has always been difficult with the weather and rough tracks, although the new stages might be slightly less demanding on the car. We will know when we do the recce, but to be honest I don't care if the stages are tougher or easier, I will always try my best."

Chris Atkinson:

"It's hard to make a prediction before I test the car today [Friday], but there were moments in Sardinia when we were right where we wanted to be. Our pace on the opening morning was promising and right now we're trying to ensure we can attack like that all the way through the Acropolis Rally. We already know it's going to be one of the toughest events of the year. The rally throws up so many variables and you've got to stay sharp from start to finish."

Between the rallies

There's been little time for rest and relaxation for the Subaru World Rally Team's star drivers since Rally d'Italia-Sardegna ended on 20 May. The drivers all left the Italian island on the Monday after the event. Petter and Phil joined the test team for two days of driving deep in the countryside of mid-Wales, on Wednesday and Thursday. Chris is scheduled to take over testing duties today (Friday 25 May). Chris, Phil and Stephane are due to join the team to begin their pre-rally preparations on Sunday, with Petter following on Monday. Meanwhile, the bulk of the equipment has been transported straight from Sardinia to Greece without returning to the team's UK headquarters in Banbury, Oxfordshire.

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