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Subaru rally driver  Chris Atkinson  is in action in Greece this weekend, taking on the Acropolis Rally, considered by many to be the toughest of the 16 events on the World Rally Championship program.

While Atkinson would dearly love a top five result to close the first half of the season on a positive note, he is not sure just how his weekend will unfold.

The Queenslander has had a difficult time of late, dogged by bad luck and handling issues in recent events. Additionally, with its searing heat, boulder-strewn gravel roads and difficult stage layouts, this rally often produces surprises of its own making.

So he feels it is hard to make predictions, but is obviously hoping for a strong drive across the three days of competition.

“There were moments in Sardinia when we were right where we wanted to be, but others where we were clearly not on the pace and not feeling comfortable in the car at all,” Atkinson said.

“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 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.”

While the team completed three days of testing in Wales last week, Subaru World Rally Team managing director, Richard Taylor, knows the major benefits will follow in the second half of the season.

“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,” Taylor said.

“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 progress at a faster rate. I’d expect to see significant progress by the time the WRC reconvenes for Rally Finland in August.”

This will be Atkinson’s third time in Greece, but his first with Stephane Prevot as his co-driver. He will once again be teamed with Petter Solberg.  The Subaru World Rally Team has a record of five wins in the past 13 seasons in Greece.

The Acropolis Rally is certainly 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 monster 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 3.3 kilometre gravel Super Special Stage has been designed. This stage, which will open the rally at 1900hrs (Friday 0200hrs AEST) on Thursday 31 May and close it at 1430hrs (2130hrs AEST) 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.

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