Hyundai Motorsport will be going for gold at Acropolis Rally following consecutive top-three finishes in Estonia and Finland. The gruelling gravel event is the tenth round of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and takes place this week (September 7-10), with the Service Park based in Lamia, Greece.
One of the most unique and exhilarating events on the calendar, Acropolis Rally featured in the WRC’s inaugural season and quickly established itself as one of the most challenging rallies for both crew and car. The rough and rocky mountain roads, paired with this year’s scorching hot temperatures, are sure to produce an even tougher competition than usual; tailored suspension and ride heights will be essential in preventing cars from sustaining rally-ending damage.
Last season, Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team expertly navigated the abrasive gravel stages to claim a historic 1-2-3 finish, with Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe on the top step and Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera rounding out the rostrum in third. It was a dominant display by the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, carrying its crews to nine stage victories and 22 top-three stage finishes. Both the Belgian and Spanish pairings will be hoping the success of 2022 will inspire another strong result this time around.
The team’s third crew in the line-up, Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm, have contested the Greek event previously in both WRC and ERC, with a best result of fourth place in the latter series. The duo has also displayed strong pace at this season’s pervious gravel rallies and will be hoping to emulate that performance and bounce back after a disappointing Rally Finland.
Acropolis Rally is renowned for its unique and impressive super special stages which kick-off the event in style. The 2023 edition will commence in front of a new scenic backdrop, as the crews take on a 1.48km seaside stage on Thursday evening. 14 lengthy stages will follow, with the entire itinerary covering a total distance of 307.89km, with three clear splits in surface conditions.
Thoughts from the co-driver’s seat
Greece is home to some of the most demanding stages on the calendar for co-drivers. However, the often-overlooked road sections also pose a challenge in the heat of the Mediterranean sun, as Ferm explains: “There are many long road sections at Acropolis Rally, so you need to stay focused throughout the whole day, even between stages. This is made harder when you have high temperatures, as it can be quite exhausting in the car. But I have actually always liked the hot rallies, so for me and Esapekka the heat is not something we are too worried about.”
Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul said: “Following a podium in Finland and a dominant performance here last year, we are feeling confident for Acropolis Rally. An exciting battle for Teemu on Rally Finland’s Sunday showed how competitive the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid has become, and Thierry’s success in second shows that we are getting closer to our goal. Nevertheless, we continue to push the limits to keep developing the car and close the gap to Toyota. Our dream for this weekend is ultimately to have a repeat of last year's results; at a minimum we are targeting all cars finishing in the top five.”