Skoda Fabia WRC Development Programme Turns To Competition At Acropolis Rally

Skoda Motorsport will increase the pace of its Fabia WRC development when it enters the World Rally Championship Acropolis Rally. After a seven month concentration on private testing and development, the team will now enter selected Europe-based WRC rounds alongside three national events in the Czech Republic, Germany and Finland.

Because Skoda Motorsport has decided not to register for this season’s WRC there are limitations to the technical improvements that can be made within the existing homologation to the Fabia WRC and so the team will continue to concentrate on its planned development programme rather than overall results.

The new Head of Skoda Motorsport, Martin Muehlmeier, said: "The Acropolis Rally is another step in our programme of development. The main target for this year is to finish as many events as possible to continue the learning and development process. Overall results are not our priority this season."

Finland’s Toni Gardemeister and co-driver Paavo Lukander remain in the team this season but rejoining the Skoda Motorsport Team for 2004 is Germany’s Armin Schwarz and co-driver Manfred Hiemer. Armin previously drove for the team between 1999 - 2001 and played a key role in developing the Octavia WRC, the highly successful predecessor to the Fabia WRC.

Armin said: "The Acropolis Rally is one of my favourite events, even though like so many other rallies it has been cut down from its former glory. It is still a great challenge and you need a strong and reliable car to be sure of making the finish. It will be my first event in the Fabia WRC and my first event since Australia last year so I am really looking forward to seeing how we compare to our rivals. The testing went very well and I am very happy with the set-up of the car that we have at the moment."

Toni is now embarking on his third successive season with the team. He said: "This is a very mixed rally with some smooth stages and some very rough ones, some fast sections and some that are very slow. It’s not my favourite rally but I am really keen to get back to competition. We have improved the Fabia quite a lot since we last competed; the handling and the response are both much better than before."

Team news

Another new face joining Skoda Motorsport in Greece is Team Manager Antonio Rodriguez. Antonio will be familiar to many people from his days at SEAT Sport and, initially, he will combine his work with the SEAT race programme alongside his Team Manager role at Skoda Motorsport.

In addition to the seven-round WRC programme, Skoda Motorsport is to send cars to three national events to maximise the development opportunities. Firstly, Armin will contest the Saarland Rally (June 18 - 19) in Germany as it offers ideal test opportunities for Rallye Deutschland. Toni will then compete on the Exide Rally (July 2 - 3), one of the traditional ‘warm-up‘ events for Rally Finland. And finally Toni will fly the Skoda Motorsport flag at the Bohemia Rally (July 9 - 11) that takes place around the team’s home town of Mladá Boleslav in the Czech Republic.

Acropolis Rally in detail

The Acropolis Rally (June 3-6) is one of the oldest events in the World Rally Championship. It is characterised by intense heat and rocky gravel roads that can destroy cars and tyres. Although the organisers have found special stages that are faster and smoother than was the case a few years ago, this remains one of the most gruelling events on the calendar and sits between similar challenging rounds in Cyprus and Turkey.

Missing this year is the ceremonial start in Athens beneath the Acropolis, topped by the ancient Parthenon. Instead the entire event will be based close to the host town of Lamia, approximately 200kms north east of Athens. The rally begins on Thursday evening with a superspecial at Lilea - Parnassos and then resumes on Friday with seven stages south of Lamia at the foot of Mount Parnassos before another visit to the superspecial.

Saturday sees six stages to the south and south east of Lamia before a third and final visit to the Lilea - Parnassos superspecial. Sunday’s final leg features seven stages to the north west of Lamia, including the only new stage of the rally, before the finish at 1453 local time.

Published : 05/06/04 Author : Melanie Carter

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