Spectator-friendly racing

Spectators will have the chance to see the cars up close for longer when the Acropolis Rally becomes the first world championship race to run a stage in a stadium today. Billed as a «spectator superspecial» stage, two cars at a time will speed around two laps of a 1.2-kilometer tarmac track inside the stadium that hosted the 2004 Athens Olympics. «It’s fantastic. It’s the best thing for the spectators,» 2003 world champion Petter Solberg said. «The tarmac is very grippy. It’s a slow but pretty spectacular stage.» Mitsubishi driver Gigi Galli was also in favor of the experiment, which will be repeated in September when the Rally of Wales begins in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. «Anything that makes it easier or more accessible for spectators to come to a rally has to be good,» Galli said. «Maybe some people will come now who might not have come normally.» However, staging the event in Athens, about a three-hour drive from Lamia where racing officially starts tomorrow, has not been well received by everyone. «It’s a nice idea to have it in the Olympic Stadium because of the tradition. If it is done properly it can be fun,» said double world champion Marcus Gronholm. «But last year in Greece we did not have anything in Athens and it was so much better. I think all the drivers hate to go that far. It’s inconvenient for everybody.» France’s world champion Sebastien Loeb goes into the rally having won the four previous events in New Zealand, Italy, Cyprus and Turkey. After seven rounds, the Citroen driver leads the championship with 55 points, ahead of Subaru’s Solberg on 42 and Estonian Markko Martin in his Peugeot on 38 points. Peugeot tops the manufacturers’ standings with 72 points, ahead of Citroen on 68. Former world champion Carlos Sainz, who came out of retirement to replace Belgian Francois Duval for Citroen in Turkey, is back behind the wheel for what he says is definitely his last outing. «My mind is made up. I have no intention of staging a comeback to the World Rally Championship,» the 43-year-old Spaniard said. «This will be my final contribution.» The rally finishes on Sunday in Lamia and covers a total distance of 1,065.57km.

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