Despite annihilating the competition in the final day of BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally in Greece, Ralliart New Zealand driver Juho Hänninen slips in the Production–World Rally Championship standings following a dose of back luck.
The three-day event over rock-strewn roads to the north and west of Athens was the toughest test on the six round calendar with much of the opposition either eliminated or rewarded for being conservative.
Finland based Hänninen took a cautious start over the first group of repeat stages on the Friday morning before breaking away to a comfortable lead.
Sidelined mid-Saturday when the power-steer return line failed, it caused the pump to seize and destroy the drive belt that provides water circulation.  Hänninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula had little choice but to stop.
Loaded on to a flat-deck recovery truck, things took an even more dramatic turn as the crew became passengers in a vehicle that ended up leaving the road.  Sledging in to a small crop of trees, it would be a positive turn as it was the only thing preventing their journey down a 200m hill-side.
Finally recovered after the towing company located a suitable crane, Hänninen’s Finnish based crew would take possession of the car at 1am in the morning to prepare it for the final day of competition.
With nothing to lose Hänninen started sweeping through the field trying to make his way back in to the points for the event.  Winning all seven stages on the final day his eighth placing earned him a solitary championship point.
While it was the opposition that benefited from the weekend carnage, Hänninen’s position in the standings keeps him within grasp of the title with a further three rounds remaining.
“The rally was OK.  I had a bit of bad luck yesterday with the car.  Some stages were rough and some were nice and we set good times,” said Hänninen.
Entrant and technical support for the flying Finn, Ralliart New Zealand’s own crew assisted with the team while they ran the Indonesian Rally pairing of Subhan Aksa and co-driver Hendrik Mbio.
“It’s the first time we’ve been here,” said spokesman Neil Allport.  “Clearly the fastest car doesn’t win here – it’s the smartest driver.  I think driving with a bit of experience at this sort of event plays a part in it.  From what I saw of the roads they are just unbelievably rough compared to anything that we’ve experienced.”
Explaining the mysterious failure on the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9, Allport says the team is mystified as to why something so minor could be so catastrophic:  “It was the return pipe on the power-steer – bad luck really.  Nothing else; you couldn’t put it down to anything else, everything was going really well, it wasn’t because he was going too hard on the car it just came down to bad luck.  Today he drove 110% today – won every stage, so there you go.”
With the car returning to Finland in preparation for the team’s next outing, Allport says being a home event for Hänninen will make him hard to beat:  “Obviously Finland is his home rally; to be honest I can’t see anyone getting within a bulls roar of him there in the production cars.  I think we saw that today, he didn’t just win, he hammered everybody.  So I think that just shows the calibre of the driver.”
Neste Rally of Finland runs from 31st July to 3rd August 2008.
Production World Rally Championship
Driver points after three rounds
1 Andreas Aigner 20
2 Jari Ketomaa 14
3 Martin Rauam 12*
4 Juho Hänninen 11
*provisional pending technical clearance
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