Ford driver Markko Martin picked up in Greece where he'd left off on the last round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Argentina. The Estonian retired from the South American event while leading -- and he ended leg one of this week's Acropolis...
Ford driver Markko Martin picked up in Greece where he'd left off on the last round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Argentina. The Estonian retired from the South American event while leading -- and he ended leg one of this week's Acropolis Rally in the same position. Martin had been forced to give best to his team-mate Francois Duval on the opening test, however. From stage two onwards though, Martin led. Duval maintained the Ford one-two until the fifth stage of the day, when he slid off the road in his Focus. Martin's day wasn't without incident either. He was forced to drive 20 kilometres of that stage with the bonnet up on his car, following a heavy compression through a dip in the road which forced the bonnet up. Despite extremely limited visibility, Martin was an amazing fourth quickest on the stage. Peugeot's honour is being defended by Harri Rovanpera who is close on the Ford driver's tail at the end of the today. Marcus Gronholm was third when he retired, only six kms before the final TC, with a fuel pump problem.
Technical: Francois Duval retired his Ford Focus RS WRC 03 on SS5, sliding off the road eight kilometres from the finish of the test. Markko Martin's car ran reliably. Mikko Hirvonen retired his WRC 02 after breaking a wheel on the second run at the Pavliani stage.
Sporting: There has been a Ford Focus RS WRC 03 at the head of the field all day today, with Duval leading after the opening test, only to give best to his team-mate Martin on the next stage. Martin maintained his advantage, despite having to drive 20 kilometres of the Elati -- Zeli stage (the longest of the rally at 34km) with the bonnet up and blocking the screen. Despite this, however, he was still fourth fastest -- just six seconds off the pace. Duval was in second place when he slid off the road. Hirvonen's only problem was excessive tyre wear on SS5.
Markko Martin said: "Everything is okay. The bonnet coming up was a bit of a pain. I don't know why it happened. We went into a quite a hard compression and then the bonnet flew up. I couldn't see very much, I was having to get right down and look under the bottom of the bonnet. It was really hard to find the corners, we were off the road for some of the time, but we made it through."
Francois Duval said: "I am really disappointed with this. Everything was going well, I was getting into the event and not going flat out. We came to a second or third gear corner, and there was a little mix up on the note. My co-driver told me something and I thought he meant something else. We just slid off the road a little and into a ditch. The problem was there were not enough spectators to help push the car out, so that was the end."
Technical: Richard Burns' 206 WRC suffered gearbox problems on the second loop of stages today. The Englishman lost third gear on SS4 and was having trouble selecting second gear by the end of the following stage. Rovanpera's car ran without fault. Gronholm car retired just before the end of leg one, with a fuel pump problem.
Sporting: Harri Rovanpera felt he had chosen the wrong tyres for the first three stages of the rally. On the right rubber for stages four and five, the Finn moved up the order and was up to second by the end of the leg. Marcus Gronholm was left to sweep the stages clear, but managed the task well and -- despite a spin on SS4 -- limited the loss to hold third. Burns' transmission trouble dropped him down the order, but he fought back over the final trio of stages to hold an overnight tenth place.
Marcus Gronholm had said: "We knew when we came here -- like we always do for these rallies, that the road surface was going to be a problem. It's not something to worry about now, we just have to get on with it. I had a spin on the fourth stage today which dropped us some time while I got the car turned around again." And after retiring: "It is really frustrating! We know the fuel is in the tank, but it cannot reach the engine!"
Richard Burns said: "On stages where you're not in first gear or fifth gear very often, losing third is a big handicap. There is quite a big gap between second and fourth, so I was having to rev the car very hard and then grab fourth. Coming down the box later in the next stage, I noticed the car wasn't selecting second too easily."
Harri Rovanpera said: "Running further back on the road has been good today, certainly the road has been swept for us, but at the same time there have been some big rocks uncovered as well. Apart from my tyre choice this morning, I'm happy with the way the day has gone."
Technical: Both Subaru Impreza WRC 2003s ran without fault today.
Sporting: The Subaru team was happy with the performance of the drivers today, feeling that Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg were ideally placed for an attack on tomorrow's stages. Both drivers had stalled their cars under braking, but that aside there were no major problems throughout this opening leg.
Petter Solberg said: "The first time we stalled, we dropped about 20 seconds (on SS1) and then the second time we did it (in SS4) we lost about 15 seconds. It's quite hard to get one of these hot engines fired up again when they stall. Apart from that, I'm happy. We were planning to be around fifth at the end of today and we are a little bit ahead of the plan already."
Tommi Makinen said: "I think we have to make some changes to the set-up of the car, it feels a little bit lazy when I'm turning in to corners. We will make some alterations to the differentials and the suspension. We had new dampers for the last rally in Argentina -- maybe we still don't know enough about them."
Technical: Sebastien Loeb retired on the opening stage of the day when his Xsara WRC succumbed to an engine problem. Colin McRae dropped 50 seconds of road penalties when his car wouldn't start prior to the second stage of the day. Carlos Sainz's Xsara WRC ran without mechanical fault through the opening leg.
Sporting: Sainz led the Citroen attack at the end of the day, but on the stages, it was McRae who had been fastest. The Scot's charge was blunted by the addition of 50 seconds to his total time after the car wouldn't start going into the second stage. He was in the top three stage times on four of the morning's five stages, only to drop a little time over the final loop. Sainz stiffened his car for the second loop of stages, but felt it was too hard and came back towards the original settings for the final loop. The Spaniard's decision was clearly the right one as he turned a 4.6-second deficit to Makinen into a 0.3-second advantage over the Finn, to claim an overnight fifth.
Carlos Sainz said: "I wasn't so comfortable with the car this morning, but things have got better. On the first loop of stages there was still quite a lot of gravel around on the roads, there wasn't much of a line being swept clean. Now I am reasonably happy, we are not so far off Marcus (Gronholm) so that can't be bad."
Colin McRae said: "There's no point thinking about what we could have done without this 50-second penalty. It's there and we have to deal with it. We have managed to claw some of the time back and it's still possible that we can get a very good result at the end of the event."
Technical: Armin Schwarz retired on SS1 with a broken cam belt on his Accent WRC. Freddy Loix suffered a fire on the same stage after a pipe from the shock absorber broke spraying oil onto the turbo. The Belgian withdrew at the start of the third stage unable to fix his suspension trouble. Jussi Valimaki's WRC3 was reliable for leg one of the event.
Sporting: Schwarz posted the second retirement of the event -- two kilometres after Sebastien Loeb parked his Citroen. Loix made the decision not to start SS3, feeling he would only do further damage to his Accent WRC. Valimaki's was the sole remaining official Accent in 13th, albeit a WRC3 rather than the latest specification WRC3.5 which Schwarz and Loix had been using. Valimaki received a two-minute penalty for a breach of the gravel car regulations.
Armin Schwarz said: "It is so frustrating to go out of this rally so early, especially when we knew what the car could do on these type of stages. We haven't had the chance to prove ourselves at all here. The problem came 12.5 kilometres into SS1. The engine went sick and that was the end. It looks like trouble with the cam belt."
Jussi Valimaki said: "I remembered the fourth stage quite well and our time was good in there. On the next stage we hit a bump very hard and knocked the steering a little out of line. It was a very heavy impact, I thought we must have broken something in the steering."
Technical: Didier Auriol's Octavia WRC ran reliably, while Toni Gardemeister retired after the fifth stage with no oil pressure.
Sporting: Didier Auriol was happy with the way his car ran through the day, but felt he been a little conservative with his tyres through SS4, saving them for the long stage which followed. He brought the sole remaining Octavia home in ninth place at the end of today. Gardemeister wasn't happy with the handling on his car through the morning stages, but felt much better on the second loop -- only for the engine to give trouble. He got out of SS5 but parked up 12 kiolometres outside of service.
Didier Auriol said: "The road has been clean, but some big, big rocks pulled out -- you don't know whether to go left or right around them when you arrive at speed. I thought we had a steering problem on SS5, but it was nothing. I shouldn't have taken it so easy on the fourth stage, we've been through SS5 and they're still okay."
Toni Gardemeister said: "The turbo blew on the car about eight kilometres from the finish and then I noticed the oil pressure dropping. On the stage before, we had broken a shock absorber, but it was the oil pressure which finished it for us."
Brice Tirabassi leads the FIA Junior World Rally Championship standings in his Renault Clio. The Frenchman has led the event all day, despite suffering a long brake pedal on the day's earlier stages. VW man Kosti Katajamaki held and early second, only to drop behind Daniel Carlsson (Suzuki) later in the leg. Gilles Panizzi is the leading non-works driver in the overall stakes, holding seventh place in his Bozian-run, works-specification 206WRC. Panizzi's Bozian team-mate Roman Kresta was fined $1,000 for breach of gravel car regulations.
RETIREMENTS: Duval (B), Hirvonen (FIN), Schwarz (D), Loix (B), Gardemeister (FIN), Loeb (F), Pykalisto (FIN), Gronholm (FIN) and 15 other drivers
TOMORROW: Saturday 7 June
Leg 2 starts from Lamia at 06h00 and covers 608.67km, including 148.63km on eight stages. The first car is expected to arrive back in Lamia at 19h55.