WRC

Acropolis Rally: Leg 1 summary

Thursday's overnight leader Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) retained a narrow advantage until the fourth stage when Petter Solberg (Subaru) moved ahead. The Norwegian was fastest on five consecutive stages to open a 55.7sec lead. Grönholm spun on ...

Thursday's overnight leader Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) retained a narrow advantage until the fourth stage when Petter Solberg (Subaru) moved ahead. The Norwegian was fastest on five consecutive stages to open a 55.7sec lead. Grönholm spun on stages five and six but held onto second until team-mate Harri Rovanperä and Duval moved ahead when the Finn made a poor tyre choice.

Rovanperä twice knocked his car's steering out of line after hitting rocks but recovered well. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) endured the worst of the conditions by starting the stages first but he lies fifth. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) suffered daylong difficulties with his car's shock absorbers but holds seventh, behind the privately-entered Daniel Carlsson.

Panizzi is ahead of Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) who lost 90 seconds when a stone broke his car's brake pipe and he drove stage four with just the handbrake. Carlos Sainz (Citroen) dropped over 35 minutes after driving three stages with broken front suspension and he is last overall. Leading retirements included Dani Sola (Mitsubishi) who was forced out in a bizarre incident when another car ran into the back of him on the third stage. Armin Schwarz (Skoda) stopped with broken rear suspension and team-mate Toni Gardemeister retired on the final stage with an engine fire.

Lege 2 starts tomorrow at 0700hrs, when cars leave Lamia parc ferme to contest seven more stages (two of which are repeated) and a further 133.18 competitive kilometres. The first stage, the 14.59km test from Amfissa, starts at 0846hrs, and the final stage, a final blast round the Super Special at Lilea, at 1711hrs. Following the introduction of a new re-start system that is being trialled at this event for the first time, all cars that retired in Leg one are allowed to re-start on tomorrow's Leg. However, such drivers will not be eligible to score points in either the WRC Drivers' or Manufacturers' Championship.

Subaru

Petter Solberg leads the Acropolis Rally tonight after scoring five consecutive stage wins and building a 55 second advantage over the rest of the field. Ideally positioned ahead of Legs two and three, Solberg dominated the action on the tough Greek stages and enjoyed a completely trouble free run in his Subaru Impreza WRC2004. It was also a good day for Subaru's latest young driver signing, Mikko Hirvonen. The 23-year-old recorded some strong stage times, and was third fastest overall on SS6. Although a broken brake pipe cost him almost two minutes early in the day, Hirvonen was quick to put the incident behind him and ended the day in a confident frame of mind.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "It's not bad. Not bad at all. It's just what I was hoping for and I'm feeling very positive now. I was concentrating so hard on not making any mistakes today, and so far it's worked out very well. At the same time Marcus has made a couple of small mistakes and that has helped me too. Of course I'm happy to be leading. But don't forget that I've been in a similar situation more than once this year - and I know that it can all change again very quickly, so I'm not planning too far ahead just yet. What I have to do tomorrow is keep it steady, watch the split times in the car and manage the pace."

Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "Actually I'm quite happy with the way that the day has gone and without the braking problem, it could have been very, very good. But, I'm feeling very positive about the way I'm driving and the car feels good. I'm going to make some small changes to the dampers tonight to see if we can get some more traction, but overall things have felt much better. I think perhaps I was thinking too much about my driving before, whereas now I'm just driving in a way I feel is right and I'm much happier. The plan now is to keep driving this way and catch the guys in front."

Peugeot

Harri Rovanpera and Marcus Gronholm have finished leg one of the Acropolis Rally in second and fourth places respectively. The pair of Finns are well-poised to continue their assault on Greece's round of the World Championship tomorrow, having each set fastest times on today's demanding stages.

Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: It's not been a perfect day," said Marcus. "For some reason I was struggling with the car a little bit during the afternoon and then we made a bad tyre choice for the final stages. In general, the stages were more slippery than I expected but I am still feeling confident. We'll be back fighting tomorrow!"

Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen: "Today has been quite good, although there were a couple of times when we knocked the steering out of line slightly against a rock. I didn't have an ideal feeling with the car in the afternoon stages, but it's been a consistent finish to the day and it's always good to be in second place. There's still a long way to go, so who knows what will happen."

Citroen

At the end of the first leg, Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC returned to the Lamia parc fermé in fifth position. Delayed by a broken shock absorber, Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti are still in position to claim points towards the Manufacturers' Championship.

Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "The lost time due to sweeping the road goes with my Championship position. I accept that. However, I do regret our tyre choice, which has increased the gap between us and Petter Solberg. This evening, we are 25 seconds from second place, which would be an excellent result. That is what we have to aim for !"

Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: For Carlos Sainz, bad luck turned into a shock absorber problem, which happened at the start of the long loop. "Everything started three kilometres after leaving Pavliani," explained the Madrid based driver. "I was very careful in the rough sections but I suddenly was aware of an oil smell ^Å the fixture of the remote damper reservoir would have come loose and broke." With the suspension held on by a strap, Carlos had to drive very slowly to finish the loop. The next service was of the kind that stays in people's minds, and the mechanics received an ovation when the car got going again.

Ford

Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers François Duval and Stéphane Prévot steered clear of trouble to finish today's gruelling opening leg of the Acropolis Rally in third. Rocky gravel tracks in the mountains of central Greece ensured this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest of the 16-rally series. But the Belgians matched speed with the strength of their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to escape the troubles that afflicted many.

Markko Martin / Michael Park: "I entered a fairly slow left bend, maybe third gear, at about 40mph and slid wide," said Märtin. "There was an area at the exit of the corner where the land had slipped away and I just ran out of road, and ended up down the bank. The car was no more than one metre off the road, but the back was at the bottom of the bank with the nose pointing up in the air. Spectators tried to help us but the car was stuck."

Francios Duval / Stefan Prevot: "I wasn't happy with my driving this morning which was quite untidy but I had better concentration and confidence this afternoon when the car seemed easier to drive," he said. "On two occasions we were lucky to escape from big incidents but I think all the drivers could probably say the same today. I'm just going to continue driving at the same rhythm and the same speed because I really want to finish this rally. It's not necessary for me to be on the podium. Fourth or fifth place would be good so I'm not going to take any risks."

Mitsubishi

The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports crew of Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi finished the opening leg of the Acropolis Rally, the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, in seventh position. However, team-mates "Dani" Solà/Xavier Amigo were forced into retirement after another competing crew drove into the back of their Lancer WRC04. Under the new 'SUPERally' regulations, however, the team can re-enter the Spanish crew for tomorrow's second leg, on the assumption the car passes scrutineering and is lodged in Parc Ferme by 23:00 hrs this evening.

Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi: "The car is getting better and I am very happy with the balance; all in all the overall feeling is good, but in the first stage this morning we hit a big pothole and broke the anti-roll bar at the back", commented Gilles. "The only problem we have had is with the shock absorbers; the car is nervous and we have to find different lines to avoid the really rough and bumpy stuff. But we are happy at the end of today because if you look at the split times, you can see the difference to the other top teams is closer than on any previous rally".

Dani Sola / Xavier Amigo: "We managed to repair the suspension damage after the first stage and everything was okay, but we were still taking it carefully in the second one to make sure we got to the end and back to service", commented Dani. "Then I pulled over to let Kresta through in stage three and he just ran in the back of us".

Skoda

koda Motorsport is expecting to have both of its Fabia WRC cars in action on the Acropolis Rally tomorrow, making maximum use of the new SupeRally system. This allows 'retired' cars to be repaired and return to contest subsequent legs of the event although no longer able to score championship points. Toni Gardemeister retired from the Acropolis Rally on tonight's final superspecial stage with a fire in the engine bay. At the time he was lying 12th but had run as high as sixth during the day. Armin Schwarz was forced to withdraw from today's competition after breaking the rear suspension on the Fabia WRC 27kms into the second stage of the day.

Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "Unfortunately I didn't have a clear run on either of today's first two stages. I was delayed in the dust of Jussi Valimaki's car on the first stage and then the suspension broke near the end of the second. Even so I have seen that the Fabia is much improved already and I am looking forward to being able to drive it again tomorrow under this new system."

Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: "I drove too fast this morning and my style was a bit untidy but it was good to be back in competition. The car is much easier to drive which was exactly what we wanted to achieve. Our stage times are already much closer to the top cars."

-fia/wrc-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team