Jari-Matti Latvala prospered during a grueling second day of the Acropolis Rally to climb from third to first and will take a lead of more than a minute into tomorrow's final leg.
The Volkswagen Polo R driver made his move when leader Evgeny Novikov swiped a bank with the rear of his Ford Fiesta RS in SS4. The impact broke a wheel and while the 4min 30sec time loss sent the Russian plunging down the order, Latvala, who overhauled Dani Sordo for second in the previous stage, moved to the front.
The Finn built a 18.7sec lead after the first loop of four stages and widened that to 64.1sec during the afternoon, despite heavy rain and roads so rocky that drivers struggled to retain a grip on their steering wheel.
“It was a solid performance and the VW team did good work in changing some parts. But we must remember this is the Acropolis and there could still be drama tomorrow,” said Latvala, who won four stages but was lucky to escape an impact with a bank.
Sordo refused to become embroiled in the short but fierce battle between Novikov and Latvala. He drove at a speed with which he felt comfortable, content to look after his Citroen DS3 and unwilling to chase the lead.
“I took no risks,” was the phrase he used at virtually every stage finish. “I tried to control the punctures and the problems,” he said.
Thierry Neuville was a model of consistency in third in his Ford Fiesta RS. The Belgian has been criticised for making mistakes earlier in the year but he steered clear of trouble to end 39.0sec behind Sordo.
“We made no mistakes and we didn’t push in the bad places. I’m happy with myself and we showed we can be clever sometimes,” he said.
The main battle was for fourth between Nasser Al Attiyah and Andreas Mikkelsen. The Norwegian held the initiative but drove this morning’s final two stages with no brakes on his Polo R to fall behind the Qatari’s Fiesta RS.
Mikkelsen closed in but a front right puncture in the final stage stifled his charge and they will restart separated by 25.7sec. “It happened in the middle of the line in a left corner. I didn’t even see it and suddenly a big bang from nowhere,” said Mikkelsen.
Mads Ostberg recovered to sixth in his Fiesta RS, despite a loose steering arm this morning, and he is 24.0sec clear of Martin Prokop’s similar car.
Mikko Hirvonen twice broke a wheel rim on his Citroen DS3 but holds eighth, 23.9sec ahead of a resurgent Novikov, who won two afternoon stages after dropping another four minutes with brake and suspension issues related to his early drama.
Rounding off the top 10 is Sebastien Ogier, the Frenchman gamely putting up with running first on the road in slippery conditions in his Polo R. His reward came on the final stage when rain hampered the later starters and he took fastest time.
Kubica extends WRC 2 lead in Greece
Nine wins from 10 stages provided Robert Kubica with a comfortable 2min 20sec lead in the WRC 2 category going into tomorrow's third and final leg of the Acropolis Rally.
The Pole won last night’s opening two tests before winning the first seven of today’s eight stages in his Citroen DS3 RRC. Only a final stage fastest time by Indonesia’s Subhan Aksa deprived Kubica of a clean sweep.
He was 38.2sec clear of Ukraine’s Yuriy Protasov last night and stretched that advantage by a minute during this morning’s four stages. He pulled further clear this afternoon in what is only his second gravel WRC outing.
“It’s been a good day for us, but very tough with two loops of difficult stages,” said Kubica. “Okay, the last one was not so bad but the other three were very rough – especially on the second pass.”
Protasov and series leader Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari enjoyed a thrilling battle for second. Protasov held the initiative in his Ford Fiesta RRC before the Qatari moved ahead on SS8 in a similar car, despite a broken anti-roll bar and overheating brakes.
However, the Ukraine driver regained second on the next test and ended the day 4.4sec ahead. “The route was very difficult with a lot of stones. I drove slowly because safety is better. I am gaining experience and I had no punctures today,” said Protasov.
“The stages were so rough that sometimes we couldn’t hold the steering wheel,” said Al-Kuwari. “It was really tough but we finished. Can I catch Protasov? I hope we can.”
Aksa lies fourth in another Fiesta RRC, with Oleksii Tamrazov completing the top five in a Fiesta S2000, the Ukraine pilot capitalising on a string of retirements ahead.
The Mini John Cooper Works cars of team-mates Valeriy Gorban and Oleksii Kikireshko were both sidelined in SS7 with broken front suspension, while Lorenzo Bertelli stopped with a broken cross-member after SS4.
Drivers face two identical loops of two stages tomorrow covering 83.22km before the afternoon finish in Loutraki.