WRC Acropolis 2nd stage: Thierry Neuville three stages away from his first victory of 2022 if no instructions in favor of Ott Tanak…

The second stage of the Acropolis Rally was particularly deadly. While all the WRC1s had finished the first stage, four of them failed to reach the finish this Saturday with the retirements of the Fords of leader Sébastien Loeb (he will not restart), Gus Greensmith, Jourdan Serderidis (battery problem, too disappointed he decided to stop there too), but also Esapekka Lappi. If we add the quarter of an hour lost by Kalle Rovanpera who can only hope to score a few points during the Power Stage, we can speak of a real slaughter.

Victim of a puncture, Pierre-Louis Loubet lost his podium, but remains clinging to the Top 5 in front of his teammate Craig Breen who is well recovered after his puncture also the day before.

Fourth, Elfyn Evans carries the last hopes of Toyota. Seven seconds behind Dani Sordo, the Welshman can still prevent Hyundai from securing a historic treble.

Following Ford’s concerns early in the morning, Thierry Neuville inherited the controls. The Belgian then set three best times before going into safety mode, saving his mechanics and tires to try to secure this first victory of 2022 which slipped through his fingers at home in Ypres. He still has three stages and 45 km to go before getting back on track – finally! – with success. If the management of Hyundai authorizes it and does not ask him to offer first place to his teammate. Ott Tanak indeed remains on two victories in a row and has 25 units more than our compatriot whose chances of crown are more than mathematical. While on the Estonian side, thirty points (if he signs the best time in the Power Stage) would allow him to return to 42 or max 45 units from Kalle Rovanpera (depending on the Finn’s result in the Power Stage) while ‘there will be three rallies left and 90 points to distribute. It’s playable and above all it would put a little more pressure on the shoulders of the young Finn. But while French colleagues told us this weekend that he was about to be replaced by ex-McLaren sporting director and French GP organizer Eric Boullier, Julien Moncet, the interim boss of Hyundai Motorsport , will he dare to impose on his Belgian driver a decision that is necessarily not popular? Can he really ask him to give up his first victory of the year to bet everything on Tanak alone?

Discussions are bound to take place tonight in the Lamia service park. And risk, whatever the decision taken or not, to create tensions. Because Thierry is aiming for a first place that he deserves and that he needs morally. Even if he gave up the world title, Thierry still hopes to finish vice-champion and first Hyundai driver. We can therefore hope that no order will be imposed and that the positions will be fixed. Even if it means having a lot of regrets at the end of the year if Ott Tanak should finally lose the title for less than seven units. Which, let’s face it, is still very unlikely given the considerable lead that Kalle Rovanpera still has even after two possible zeros scored…

SS11-12: Lappi broken down, Neuville leading a provisional 100% Hyundai podium

The nightmare continues for Ford M-Sport which lost two more Pumas in SS11 with the retirements due to mechanical problems of Jourdan Serderidis and Gus Greensmith. As a result, Pierre-Louis Loubet is once again the best placed “Fordists”fifth at 2’16.

The carnage also continues on the side of Toyota. After Kalle Rovanpera’s touchdown, whose Yaris was nevertheless able to be repaired to continue on its way, it was Esapekka Lappi, second in the event, who encountered problems, obviously with power supply. The Finn has already lost more than thirteen minutes on SS12 and will try to complete the final special of the day. As a result, we find the three Hyundais in the lead with Thierry Neuville, who went into economy mode after a third consecutive scratch in SS11. The Belgian has a sufficient lead of 34.2 over his teammate Ott Tanak. Dani Sordo signed the scratch in the SS12 and points to 42.9. But it’s clear that the Spaniard won’t attack the Estonian. He must nevertheless keep a certain rhythm if he wants to preserve Elfyn Evans (at 16 seconds) behind him.

SS10: New scratch for Neuville which flies away, worries for Tanak

23 km long, the Tarzan special saw Thierry Neuville set a new best time, 8.1 ahead of Gus Greensmith’s Ford and 8.5 faster than Esapekka Lappi. Only seventh, Ott Tanak lost 13.7 and his second place overall due to differential problems affecting the wear of his rubbers.

“It’s a surprise for me to easily find myself in the lead with 31 seconds ahead,” smiles our compatriot still looking for his first success this season. “I didn’t really push. But be careful, the road is still long. We’re only halfway through the rally and a lot of things can still happen.”

The Belgian must be relieved to see the threat of his team-mate go away and the risk of seeing a team order deprive him of his first success this year, Ott Tanak being much better placed than him in the championship. If the Estonian regained 30 units this Sunday, he could come back to 42 points from Rovanpera before leaving for New Zealand, with another three rallies and ninety units to distribute.

Leaving with a left rear wheel askew and without a rear bonnet, Kalle Rovanpera again lost nearly six minutes by crabbing. The Finn has now dropped beyond 20th place in the general classification.

SS9: Seb Loeb betrayed by his mechanics, Neuville signs the scratch and becomes a comfortable leader

Catastrophe again in the Ford camp. While this morning the Pumas of Seb Loeb and Pierre-Louis Loubet were back in the lead, two stages later, the first of the M-Sport cars is now that of Gus Greensmith, sixth at 54 seconds!

While he had just set a 2nd time and was 19 seconds ahead of Thierry Neuville, Sébastien Loeb was forced to stop and then retire on the section, shortly after the arrival of SS8, victim Sounds like an alternator problem. The crew mechanized for half an hour to try to repair with the means on board, in vain. They are now out of the race.

At the same time, Pierre-Louis Loubet, second this morning, punctured at the front left, lost 1’13 and fell to 7th place behind his team-mate Gus Greensmith. Concern also for Craig Breen on this new 8th special for all, as for Takamoto Katsuta seen in the lower side and especially Kalle Rovanpera who hit the left rear. The Finn, world leader, stopped so as not to hinder his teammate Elfyn Evans and lost 6’17. It is unlikely to continue today. We should see him again tomorrow to try to score some bonus points, but given his position on the road it will be complicated.

All these events benefit Thierry Neuville who signs his first scratch of the rally, 8.2 ahead of Ott Tanak, and now takes the lead in the event with an 18.6 lead over his Estonian team-mate and 22.5 over the Toyota of Esapekka Lappi. Dani Sordo is fourth at 34.4, Elfyn Evans at 49.8 and Gus Greensmith at 54.2.

In two specials, the situation cleared up and turned in favor of the Hyundai drivers.

SS8: The scratch for Tanak, but Loeb increases his lead over Neuville second

As expected, the Hyundais sound the charge this morning in Greece. Starting sixth Ott Tanak now enjoys a better position on the road and has recovered his hybrid system. The Estonian sets the best time on the longest special of the rally (33 km) 1.7 ahead of the leader Sébastien Loeb who will sell his skin dearly.

Thierry Neuville set the third fastest time 4.7 behind his teammate and passed Pierre-Louis Loubet and Esapekka Lappi to take second place, now 19 seconds behind the leading Puma.

“Unlike Ott, I decided to carry two spare wheels, which constitutes a weight handicap but also in terms of the behavior of my Hyundai on such a slippery stage,” explains our representative. “The rear is more involved. But we will do the accounts at the end of the loop…”

It seems obvious that the podium will be decided on a regular basis between the two Hyundais and the Ford of Loeb because the others cannot keep up. Esapekka Lappi was fourth at 17.2, Dani Sordo at 20.2 and Pierre-Louis Loubet at 20.4. This confirms that last night’s hierarchy was mainly established by the positions on the road. Except for that devil Loeb. The WRC grandpa is resisting and the Hyundai drivers will have to spit in their hands to get him and take important points at Kalle Rovanpera. The Finn started fourth on the road this morning, but the times still do not follow (9th), the Toyota driver complaining of a lack of traction. On a regular basis, it is hard to see him getting back into the Top 8. Ott Tanak must take advantage of this to significantly reduce his big delay in the world championship.

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