SPORTS

Colin McRae is aiming for a hat trick at Acropolis Rally

LONDON – Colin McRae is aiming to complete a career hat-trick of wins in Greece this weekend, at the Acropolis Rally, to get his fading world rally title challenge back on track. The Ford driver, champion in 1995, has yet to win a round this season and is already 21 points behind Peugeot’s championship leader Marcus Gronholm after six rounds. The Scot knows he must win to remain in contention and the dusty tracks in Greece will provide a tough test for both cars and drivers with in-car temperatures of up to 60 degrees Celsius. «The Focus goes well in these rougher conditions. We led from the start in Cyprus until our accident, and I think Greece is even more suited to the car because the speeds are higher and therefore it’s even tougher on the cars,» said McRae. «If luck hadn’t been on our side in Argentina our title chances in both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships would have been pretty grim.» McRae ended up third in Argentina last month after Finland’s Gronholm and Peugeot teammate Richard Burns, the current world champion, were disqualified from first and second places. Gronholm was penalized for illegal assistance before Burns’s elevation to event winner proved brief when he was thrown out for having an underweight engine flywheel. «The results changed and things are healthier,» said McRae. «It’s essential that we come away from the next two rallies with at least one win.» Gronholm and Burns will debut a revised version of their 206 WRC with improved underbonnet cooling, a modified rear wing, slight turbocharger changes and stronger suspension. «It’s a rally I enjoy and I’m feeling particularly confident this year,» said Burns, who joined Peugeot from Subaru at the end of last season. «My understanding of the 206 WRC has moved on a step and in addition I have been very impressed by the new-evolution car during the tests we carried out. We drove over some rough roads yet we didn’t break a thing. I have never felt so optimistic before the start of a rally since I joined Peugeot.» The Zappeion Mansion, in the heart of Athens, will be the venue for the ceremonial start today before the drivers move northwest on a route around Parnassus and the surrounding mountains. The event is once again based at the coastal town of Itea and competitors will tackle almost 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) of rocky roads during the three legs. Finland’s four times world champion Tommi Makinen will line up for Subaru after his lucky escape following a final-day crash in Argentina. Makinen was attempting to challenge Gronholm for the lead of the rally when he suffered a spectacular accident where he rolled at least eight times. Makinen has never won the event and the Finnish driver attended an acclimatization training course before reconnaissance. «The smash in Argentina was a very big one,» Makinen said. «I still have some bruising from the belts and as I hit my crash helmet quite hard my head was hurting quite a lot. I’m feeling pretty confident because our performance was encouraging in Argentina and we seem to be improving each rally. Everything is looking very good.» Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb, Spaniard Carlos Sainz for Ford and Subaru’s Petter Solberg will also be in contention for victory as the season reaches its halfway point.