The completely redesigned and eagerly anticipated Subaru Impreza WRC2008 will make its competitive debut on the classic Acropolis Rally, after an official introduction to the car on Wednesday evening before shakedown. Aboard their new machines, Solberg and Atkinson will relish the challenge of the season’s toughest event at the dawn of a new era for the Subaru World Rally Team.

Just one week after Rally Sardinia, in which the team has been working feverishly to ready the two Impreza WRC2008s for action, crews will barely have had time to catch their breath when they arrive in Greece for the iconic seventh round of the World Rally Championship.

This year sees a change to the norm as the event’s service park has been moved for the third year running, this time to the Tatoi military airport. Thursday’s spectator Superspecial stage has been similarly relocated to the roads surrounding the base.

One of the longest-standing events on the calendar, Acropolis has long been regarded as the season’s toughest event. Sitting well into European summertime, the gravel routes surrounding the ancient city of Athens will be notoriously hot and punishing on crews and cars alike, proving a stern test of the WRC’s youngest challenger.

With temperatures climbing towards 40 degrees Celsius, the roads are some of the dustiest and roughest that competitors will see. What are best described as boulders line much of the mountainous route, whilst the many rocks that scatter the stages will put the Impreza WRC2008’s surefootedness to the test.

Underfloor protection is essential on this event to prevent damage to vulnerable components beneath the cars such as gearboxes and differentials. Although the hard compound Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyres that teams have used for the last four events have excelled themselves, the risk of punctures will be high and crews may find themselves having to consciously avoid some of the larger obstacles in their path.

In this rally of endurance, the most demanding on the calendar, the level of fitness of each driver will become very evident as they battle with searing in-car temperatures which will sap their strength and concentration. Durability here is as important as outright performance, and, as in Jordan, crews will pay particular attention to operating temperatures to keep the two Imprezas at their peak.

Twenty stages will take competitors through 340 kilometres of racing to the north and west of the service park. Two passes of the new Tatoi spectator stage bring to a crescendo Friday and Sunday’s competition.

The Subaru World Rally Team have entered two all-new Impreza WRC2008s for the Acropolis Rally. Petter Solberg / Phil Mills will drive car number five and Chris Atkinson / Stéphane Prévot will be aboard number six. Solberg and Mills finished third on this event last year, and 2008 will be Atkinson’s fourth running. His highest finish was sixth last year, alongside Prévot.

Team quotes
David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal: “Acropolis will see a very different Subaru World Rally Team as we return to full strength upon the debut of our new car. Whilst a very different look and direction for us, the WRC2008 is instantly recognisable as a Subaru and I am sure will continue the marque’s iconic heritage. I am confident of a very positive step forward in our pace in Greece, despite it being the toughest event of the year, and moreover its debut heralds a new chapter in the team’s illustrious history.”

Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: “Everyone who’s been in rallying for a long time likes going to Greece as it’s one of the great historic rallies. We’ll see a lot more base bedrock on the stages than in Sardinia, which makes the surface a lot harder. Using some of the old classic stages of the championship, it’s very, very challenging; the most challenging of the season for us. They’ve had a bad winter in Greece so the stages will be quite deteriorated already, and large rocks in the road always make the second passes harder. You get a good result from pushing as hard as possible without taking risks – it’s more of an endurance event.

“We’ve done a considerable amount of endurance mileage with the new car which of course we’re using for the first time in Greece, so this should stand us in good stead. The rally is bound to throw up new challenges to those we’ve faced in testing however and it’s an event likely to throw up surprises, but it’s a good tough weekend to quickly highlight areas in which we can fine-tune and continue to improve.”

Driver quotes
Petter Solberg: “We finished third here last year and this time we have the new car, so I’ll be really pushing for a strong result. It’s a very difficult event; very rocky and hot, and the stages have always been very rough so it’s hard on us and the cars. We’ve had a few days in the new car now, so I have a good feeling from it and really hope that we’ll be in a good position to fight at the front. I’ll be at 110 per cent, definitely.”

Chris Atkinson: “It’s the first time out in a new car so it’s very exciting but you’re always a little cautious! If the feeling’s good I’ll be pushing straight away. There’s no reason not to, and obviously I’m looking forward to the opportunity to see where we are with the car. We know it’s going to be a very tough event as there are so many variables, so it won’t be easy but I hope we can take another step in the right direction and start to close up to the frontrunners.”

Between the rallies
In the week between Acropolis and Sardinia, the drivers and co-drivers had one final test aboard their Impreza WRC2008s before arriving in Greece ready to drive them competitively for the first time.
In the short gap amidst the busiest time of the season, the majority of the equipment travelled from Sardinia straight to Athens, although of course the WRC2008s departed from the UK on trailers.
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