Greece’s Acropolis Rally used to be one of the roughest and slowest rallies of the season. Acropolis lost its WRC status after 2013 but is now back on the calendar, replacing the cancelled Chile. Like Safari, this year’s Acropolis has been condensed into a compact and modern event with the main characteristics still present.
Rally Acropolis has been traditionally run around the capital of Acropolis, as well as the cities of Corinth, Itea and Lamia. All four are now represented on the route which is surprisingly vast, and includes quite many single-run stages.
When we compare Acropolis to other gravel rallies of the season, Portugal and Sardegna are closest, with a similar combination of fast-flowing and technical on relatively rough roads. However, the roads in Acropolis are wider and in many places faster, for extended periods. That way, sometimes they resemble Mexico or New Zealand. There’s also lots of steep uphills and downhills.
The biggest challenge of Acropolis is that the road surface and width can change often from wide to narrow, smooth to rough, firm to soft – without warning. The organizers have also repaired some stages which has made them smoother than we could expect, but it’s questionable how they will hold up for the second passes (although many stages will be run just once). In the mountains it’s also expected that rocks will fall onto the road. There’s also bits of tarmac here and there, but not as often as in Portugal and Sardegna.
In the 80’s the challenge was also that road sections were timed very tightly so all servicing added road penalties, increasing importance of car durability, just like in Safari. We could claim this element is still present through the usage of remote services, where the cars can be serviced only by the drivers, with the tools and spare parts they carry with them.
The shakedown is driven at Divri, close to the service park of Lamia. It’s typical Acropolis, the road is quite wide and it alternates between very fast and very technical passages. The first half seems to be quite smooth and the second half is rougher, more uphill. We can see the stage on this 2019 onboard until 4:15. However, since then a bit of the stage has been paved. There’s also a bit of concrete in the uphill after the junction turn at 2:10.
The rally starts in the evening with SSS1 Athens City Stage. From what the map tells us, it’s a street stage with only three donuts and three 90° turns. Luckily it lasts only for 980 metres.
Friday is like a transitional leg from Athens to Lamia. There’s only 89 km of stages in five stages, three of which are single-runs, but the only service the drivers will get during the day is a tyre change near Corinth. This day contains the only stages familiar from the last WRC Acropolis in 2013.
SS2+4 Aghii Theodori is a familiar name, but the stage has never featured in this configuration before. The last 10 km of this stage featured on the latest WRC Acropolis in 2013 a total of four times! Meanwhile, the once-driven Kineta stage contained a slightly longer portion of it.
The beginning is the most rarely used section, only driven once in on the 1999 Kineta stage, and no visual document is available. However, the rest of the stage is typical Acropolis – a quite wide road, alternating between fast-flowing and technica with lots of uphill and downhill. Meanwhile, the most exceptional thing about this stage is the very fast tarmac section from 6.5 km to 10.1 km. You can see the tarmac section and the technical ending of the stage on this nighttime onboard from 2011 starting at 4:10.
SS3 Loutraki contains familiar roads from various stages, but not always in this configuration. In fact, the almost same stage was run in 2011 with the title Aghii Theodori! This is the second of the two stages to have featured in the 2013 rally, again in slightly different configuration.
It’s again a wide road, mostly quite fast-flowing with the occasional tight corner but nothing too technical. At 9.8 km there’s a narrower road with hairpins, and here the route deviates for a while from the 2011 route (6:26 – 8:09 on the video) onto a twisty section (assumedly narrow). The ending featured a few water splashes in 2011 and is more technical than the beginning, although there’s also fast passages.
SS5 Thiva has featured regularly in the rally, for example in the last ERC edition of 2018. It is the longest stage of the day at 23 km. It contains exceptionally much of narrower and rougher roads. The beginning is angular and technical but at 4.3 km it opens up for a fast but narrow section seen on this 2007 onboard from 1:26 onwards.
The stage becomes more technical at 7.5 km but contains still some fast passages here and there. The road becomes also wider and smoother at 11.6 km. A narrower but fast-flowing road is chosen at 15.4 km but a kilometre later the stage returns onto a wider but slower road. Another narrow section appears at 18.3 km.
The stage deviates from 2007’s route 12:41 into the video. There’s no visual document of the last 3.5 km but based on the map it seems very fast.
SS6 Elatia is the shortest forest stage of the rally at 11 km. It has been usually driven in a longer form – last in 2017 – and this is the beginning of it.
Elatia is a straightforward and fast hill climb. The road is quite wide and smooth, and there’s only a handful of tight corners on the way. The last 2 km are even driven on tarmac. You can see the stage on this video until 6:00 where it will continue straight for a little bit.
Saturday takes the drivers from Lamia to Itea, where a remote tyre zone is held. Two of the six stages are single runs.
SS7+11 Pavliani hasn’t been used in Acropolis since 2005, but the route has remained almost identical. The stage starts with a 500m elevation gain during its first 13 km, whereas the rest is downhill. The road is again quite wide and quite smooth, although narrower, softer and rockier passages are also in the mix. It’s mostly fast and flowing with a handful of tight corners here and there. Actually seems like really nice to drive, especially after a few cars have cleaned the loose gravel. The landscape ranges from dense birch forest to open hills and valleys.
After the 11 km mark there’s a couple of small river crossings, but it’s difficult to tell how much water there will be in them during the rally. At 12.1 km there’s a hairpin turn onto a narrower and more technical road. The river crossings are frequent and the road condition varies throughout, getting especially soft and rough near the end. There’s some slow and tricky places on the way. At the end we can also see that the road has been recently repaired (and also rallied on in June).
SS8 Gravia is one of the most technical and slow stages of the rally. It has featured on the Acropolis route since 1995, sometimes also with slightly different configuration and the title Drossohori. This particular version was driven similarly in the ERC editions of 2016 and 2017. This year’s start will be about 1:10 into the onboard.
The stage begins on a quite smooth and quite wide technical mountain road with more camber than Acropolis usually offers. The width and surface of the road changes sometimes suddenly into narrower and/or softer. A well-cambered section in a valley at 7.5 km resembles Rally New Zealand. Meanwhile, the following forest section is very narrow and rocky.
At 9.6 km there’s a turn onto a wider but very rocky road. At the same point the stage starts descending. There’s tricky hairpins at 10.5 km with improved road surface. There’s more hairpin sequences at 12.1 km and 13.2 km. At 15 km the road narrows again for a while, but after that the width and surface change constantly – more on the narrow side after the hairpin junction at 19.9 km. Yet another hairpin section follows at 21.4 km, followed by a slightly faster section until the end.
SS9 Bauxites will be one of the fastest stages of the rally. It’s an Acropolis classic, but this version essentially combines the original 9 km Bauxite Way with roads from other stages, such as Karoutes. This route was used in 2002, 2003, 2009 and 2012, and the original Bauxite Way hasn’t featured since in the rally.
The beginning – the aforementioned Bauxite Way – is a wide and fast but rocky rough section. There’s only a handful of slow corners.
At 8.3 km the stage crosses a tarmac road and proceeds on another, more technical gravel road. However, there’s still plenty of fast passages as well. The last 2.6 km could be again a bit rougher.
SS10+12 Eleftherohori has been used as early as 1993, with various configurations, sometimes titled Drimea, Paleohori or Mendenitsa. This same version was used on the 2016 and 2017 rallies.
It’s mostly a fast-flowing stage with some technical passages thrown in here and there. The road width and surface changes constantly from wide and smooth to narrow and soft. The stage also seems loaded with small crests, more than most stages. It seems to get more rocky and rough at 11 km until the last junction and smooth road 600 m before the finish.
The Sunday stages are driven West of Lamia. It’s not a normal Sunday drive with almost 80 km of special stages.
SS13+15 Tarzan is a somewhat legend of Acropolis, and the second run acts as the power stage. The last time Tarzan was driven was 2003, and the two following years with a slightly different version named Dikastro, but no runs after that. This run from 2003 was almost similar, only the very beginning was different back then.
This is a very technical stage with endless hairpins and resembles slow rallies like Turkey and Cyprus. Only the last kilometre is faster. Compared to the Gravia stage, this is more constantly technical and similar throughout whereas Gravia had many rhythm changes and roads. Based on this fresh recce video, the surface will be quite smooth, but possibly soft.
On the power stage run, Tarzan will be run in a shorter, TV-tailored format. The stage simply starts from halfway through. It doesn’t affect the character of the stage that much.
SS14 Pyrgos is the longest stage of the rally with 33.2 km of length and the sixth single-run forest stage (or six and half in total with the beginning of Tarzan being single-run). Pyrgos has been driven only once in Acropolis before, in 2005, but parts of its route have been featured from 1992 to 1996 on the stages Anatoli and Marmara.
There’s no visual document of the beginning of Pyrgos. Based on map there’s both technical and fast sections, also a coule of hairpins. It also ascends steeply 730 metres during 12.5 km.
The following recce video begins at said 12.5 km point on a wide and smooth but maybe soft road (seems similar to the recently repaired Pavliani). It’s a technical mountainous road with constant turns and also some hairpins. The town of Dafni is passed 17.6 km into the stage with a narrow section between walls and a bit of paved road. After this the road is again similar than before. At 19.2 km there’s a junction turn after which the road gets narrower and trickier with a deep ravine next to the road. There’s also some rockier places. A big jump surprises at 24.6 km. Another similar passing of a town features at 25.6 km. After this the road is again wider and also faster. The stage concludes spectacularly with five descending hairpins.
Road conditions and Starting order
We can expect some road sweeping to happen like in any gravel rally, but also the flipside is dust and possible rocks being pulled up onto the road. The softness of the surface is also a bit of a question, especially on the repaired sections. Thus it’s difficult to tell how much the road cleans or how much the grip improves.
Championship leader Sebastien Ogier will be first on the road. We could expect strong performances from the Hyundai drivers Ott Tänak and Dani Sordo, starting fifth and eighth, respectively.