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(, 28/5/2013)  HIGH temperatures, rocks, dust and a combination of hard, fast sections and softer, winding tracks will present drivers and cars with one of the most punishing challenges on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar at the Acropolis Rally in Greece next weekend.

One of the longest-standing and most iconic events in the WRC, the Acropolis Rally will again be based in the coastal resort of Loutraki, 90km from Athens.

This year’s rally itinerary is changed considerably from the 2012 edition. Organisers have shortened the distance of the stages by approximately 100 kilometres and taken a day off the schedule, making it the shortest event contested so far this season.

Following a Qualifying Stage over a 6.05-kilometre course on Friday morning to decide the running order for day one, crews head east to the capital Athens and the famous Zappion precinct for the ceremonial start.

Competition then begins with the marathon 47km Kineta-Pissa stage – the longest test of the rally – followed by a late evening run on the 26km Kineta.

Saturday’s itinerary comprises eight stages over a demanding 12-hour period. With service during the day restricted to just one 30-minute halt in Loutraki, the challenge is further increased due to the limited amount of repair work that can be undertaken.

Sunday is a slightly more tame affair with just four stages. The event concludes with the repeat of the 30km Loutraki test, which is this year’s Acropolis Power Stage.

So, who’s going to win?

Not last year’s winner Sebastien Loeb. After his guest appearance on Rally Argentina, Loeb is sitting this one out. Which leaves with a short list of 12 names in the World Rally Car class.

Topping that list could be the man who was quicker than Loeb in a Porsche 911 around the streets of Monaco last weekend, Sebastien Ogier.

Ogier’s record in Greece is similarly impressive. He finished second in 2009, a result he calls his ‘breakthrough’ in the WRC, and won the rally outright in 2011, the next time it appeared in the WRC calendar.

Last year, Volkswagen took part in the Acropolis with two cars manufactured by sister brand Škoda. Ogier won the Super 2000 category and finished in a fine seventh position overall.

How the Polo R will stand up to roughest challenge of the year remains to be seen, but since Argentina Volkswagen and its three drivers Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen have been pounding test roads in Greece to prepare.

Latvala is also one to watch. The Finn rates the Acropolis as the hardest WRC rally of the year, but last year, in a Ford, he was the early leader before dropping to third after a mistake led to a puncture.

Increasingly comfortable in the Polo R, Latvala’s recent form is unbeatable. The Finn rounded off the last round in Argentina with a run of five consecutive stage wins.

A new handbrake that is quicker at releasing drive to the front wheels should also help Ogier and Latvala.

Citroen’s team leader Mikko Hirvonen is bound to be a front-runner. Having finished on the podium on the past four occasions in Greece – and winning in 2009 – the Finn is very familiar with the requirements of the event. Hirvonen has worked closely with Citroen on its ongoing development of the DS3 and evaluated new set-ups at a pre-event test in Greece.

Meanwhile, after missing this rally for the past two years, Hirvonen’s team-mate Dani Sordo could be in the running if he can quickly familiarise himself with some of the stages.

Once again the Qatar M-Sport squad’s hopes ride with Fiesta RS duo of Mads Ostberg and Evgeny Novikov.

Ostberg was fourth in 2012 after a remarkable comeback from an early off and is eyeing a podium this week. Meanwhile Novikov has fond memories of the 2009 Acropolis Rally, when he became the WRC’s youngest stage winner aged 18 years, 8 months and 24 days.

Michelin will supply its Latitude Cross gravel tyre to all of the World Rally Car crews. The WRC’s second tyre supplier, DMACK, lost its sole WRC runner when Michal Kosciuszko pulled his Acropolis entry and the company is now focused on the WRC-2 runners with its DMG+2 tyre.

Both Michelin’s Latitude Cross and DMACK’s DMG+2 tyres are available in just one construction and tread pattern, but are offered in two compounds (hard and soft) to suit the varied conditions on the nine gravel rallies in the season.

In Greece, each WRC crew will have 35 hard-compound tyres available, plus an alternative of 16 soft-compound tyres. Each competitor is allowed to use a maximum of 35 tyres across both compounds for the entire event.

In accordance with FIA technical regulations, each tyre manufacturer is allowed to nominate one new specification of both its gravel and asphalt tyres during the season.

DMACK has chosen to make changes in Greece, by reclassifying its existing S3 compound tyre from ‘soft’ to ‘hard’ and introducing a new S1 compound as the new ‘soft’ option.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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