Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor making their very first outing in a Hyundai Accent WRC³ put in an excellent performance to finish in 11th overall as the Jubilee edition of the Acropolis Rally lived up to its expectations as one of the roughest and toughest events in the FIA World Rally Championship.
The OMV-sponsored works-supported driver took a mature approach to the rally, knowing that mileage in his new world rally machine was more important than personal glory. Despite driving somewhat conservatively, Stohl still managed to post competitive stage times, including two ninth fastest and recorded his best ever finish in a WRC car, illustrating how quickly the Austrian settled into the Hyundai.
"I had only covered a few kilometres in the Accent before this rally and that was at the shakedown. It’s not been the fastest rally for me but it is probably the most important," explained a happy Stohl. "I didn’t expect such a result as I have only finished here once and this is my first time in the Hyundai. So it is fantastic for me to do this well."
Thinking back to before he contested his debut event in the Accent WRC³, Manfred commented: "I was never aiming for a particular position before the rally. I didn’t care whether I came 11th, 15th or anything – I just wanted to finish."
"It was interesting for me because as well as trying to go fast I had to drive with my head and if that meant slowing down then ok we slowed. I was surprised from the start by how well I came to know the car and with every kilometre we got better and I was more confident. The team and the car were fantastic. The Accent ran well and the problems we had were all ‘Greece’ problems," said Stohl praising his new Hyundai.
Thinking ahead to his next event, he concluded: "We will have a test for Germany but tarmac is not the best rally for me. It’s too early to say but now I am more familiar with the car and I have some mileage under my belt, at least I will be able push a little bit more."
Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer both saw their rally come to a premature close as the rough Greek conditions took their toll. On the opening stage of the day the German crew retired with a damaged cam belt and their Belgian team-mates were sidelined with a damaged suspension. Hyundai privateer Jussi Valimäki, who was nominated to score manufacturer points, also saw his rally cut short when his clutch failed on leg two.
The seventh round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship takes crews a little further south into the Mediterranean for the Cyprus Rally running from June 20-22.
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