Petter Solberg (Subaru) was Gronholm's closest challenger. He was second on every stage except one today to open a 9.2sec advantage over championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen). The Frenchman was hindered by running first over the gravely...
Petter Solberg (Subaru) was Gronholm's closest challenger. He was second on every stage except one today to open a 9.2sec advantage over championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen). The Frenchman was hindered by running first over the gravely stages this morning. But he could not match Gronholm's pace on cleaner roads this afternoon, despite admitting to taking many risks. Francois Duval (Skoda) was a surprise fifth, ahead of a fierce battle for the remaining places on the leaderboard which saw positions changing hands on every test. Toni Gardemeister (Citroen) held sixth for most of the day but he was edged out by Manfred Stohl and Henning Solberg (both Peugeot) on the final stage. Punctures were common on the rocky tracks but the only driver to encounter major problems was Chris Atkinson (Subaru). The Australian broke a rear differential and dropped three minutes before repairs could be made in service. He is 17th.
Kronos Total Citroen
Despite suffering from the handicap of being roadsweepers for everyone else, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC fought at the sharp end of the action throughout the opening leg. The reigning World Champions have Petter Solberg and Marcus Gronholm as their targets, which promises a thrilling three-way battle tomorrow.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "I'm not at all unhappy though. For thefirst time this season, we're going to get the fight between three drivers and cars that we've all been waiting for. It's pretty exciting. On the other hand, I can't get away from the fact that I'm not where I would ideally like to be. During the first loop of stages, I knew that I would be sweeping the road clean and dropping time. But I expected a bit more from the second loop. It's not through lack of trying ! I didn't go for the new BFGoodrich H2 tyres, but equally my tyre choice seemed good. I gave it everything I could - and I wasn't alone in that . Tomorrow, I've got an excellent sparring partner in Petter. Trying to get past him will be the best way to get me closer to Marcus . In any case, I'm going to keep putting on pressure."
Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "We picked up two punctures, on SS3 and SS7, but the mousse worked well and we didn't really have to slow down. We also had a stall on SS7, which cost a few seconds. During the recce, I really liked Skourta [SS3/6] and I was convinced that we could do something special there - but that didn't happen. Everything's open for tomorrow though, and we are 25 seconds away from fifth place. Given that there's so much road still ahead of us, it's not a huge margin. We can still do the job here. "
It was a successful first leg for the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team at the "bp ultimate Acropolis Rally of Greece". Following a rather cautious beginning Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (O) as well as Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud put their foot really down in the afternoon of the first day. The continuous improvement also showed in the results. Stohl lies in sixth place after seven of 18 special stages, Solberg is only 1,7 seconds behind in seventh place.
Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "We didn't take too much risk since one can slip off the road quite easily under such conditions. Everything went much more smoothly (this afternoon) vand we were able to gain half a second in comparison with the top. This means a good starting position for Saturday."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "We're still part of the game. And we'll surely be able to improve even more on Saturday."
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen lead the Acropolis Rally of Greece after dominating today's opening leg in the hills around Athens. The Finns won all six speed tests in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to build a 26.3 second advantage at the head of this eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are fourth in a similar Focus RS.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I won every stage and it doesn't get much better than that. The car is fantastic and I have the tool to beat Solberg and Loeb - and that's a good feeling. I made a good start this morning but I knew that I had to build on that. I was leading by 40sec after the first morning on the last rally in Sardinia. But by Saturday night I was at home watching Finland win the Eurovision Song Contest on television, so that's how quickly things can change."
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Fourth is a good position and tomorrow I must concentrate on keeping the car on the road and avoiding the rocks. I made some changes to the suspension settings at lunchtime and they worked well this afternoon. Conditions were better than I expected this morning but they were rougher this afternoon and tomorrow's leg will be rougher still. This morning I was driving in 'safe' mode, the kind of pace I used in Sardinia, so I pushed harder to try to increase my advantage over the cars behind."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford
It was a trouble free first day for Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson in the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally though the 19 year-old Brit's performance potential was blunted by the effects of energy-sapping food poisoning in the searing heat around the Greek capital, Athens.
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I can't wait to get to bed after today. I've been trying to drink as much as I can through the day but if anything I've felt worse and eating at lunch didn't help. But once you're out on the route and you put your helmet on you forget about being ill and get on with the job. The heat has been quite something; once you've got hot on the first stage that's it for the rest of the day. The stages in the afternoon were unbelievable, I've never driven a stage so rough in my life."
Kosti Katajamaki/Timo Alanne: "We had three punctures after the first stage this afternoon and then only had one spare so we kept swapping tyres. The rims were damaged so we could feel vibrations the whole time. The power steering was fixed at the service stop and the M-Sport crew did a brilliant job, there wasn't a single problem in the afternoon. Tomorrow will be even harder but despite the tough stages it has been fun today."
After an excellent first day of the Acropolis Rally, Subaru's Petter Solberg lies well placed in second overall, 26 seconds off the lead, with two more days of the rally remaining. Driving an Impreza WRC2006 the Norwegian was the closest rival to current leader Marcus Gronholm and the pair pulled 35sec clear of current World Champion, Sebastien Loeb who is third. Chris Atkinson made a promising start in the second Subaru but a differential problem in the morning cost him several minutes and dropped him from sixth place to eighteenth. With his car back to full strength after the mid-point service Chris began a spirited recovery and set the fourth fastest stage time on the last test of the day.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Today I felt the car and new Pirelli tyre were very good and gave me the chance of a good battle. The last three stages of the day were difficult to drive as we took an extra spare wheel for safety after the punctures this morning. That's Greece though and it is the same for everyone, but it made the car a bit more tricky to drive and not so good to attack. We're having a good fight out there and I'm looking ahead to try and get closer to Marcus."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "This afternoon was much better than this morning but it took me a while to get used to the changes in setup we made this morning. I feel more confident in the car and that showed in finishing the last stage in fourth. I think that tomorrow we can continue to move back up the leaderboard and maybe a top ten finish is still possible, but getting into the points will be hard."
Red Bull-Skoda Team
Team managers Raimund Baumschlager/Armin Schwarz commented on today's events with an interesting observation: "Both driver complained about the tracks on the roads. The Fabia WRC is four centimetres narrower than every other car. Therefore our car doesn't run in the ruts left by our competitors. Andreas' performance was very satisfactory, but we need to continue examining why Harri isn't up to speed at the evening service."
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "I can't explain our problem. We tried to get rid of the car's understeering at the midday service, so we changed some settings, which subsequently proved to be not very useful. We need to continue to work hard to increase our speed, I hope that we'll find the problem over the next two days."
Andreas Aigner/Klaus Wicha: "The first few kilometres this morning were rather tough for me. I was hardly able to see the road, I transpired a lot and the sweat got into my eyes. Then my condition improved thanks to the antibiotics. My times were alright, but three tyre failures held me back. Thank goodness the mousse kept working every time. On SS6 I had a spin which cost me 17 seconds. Apart from that I'm happy, the Fabia WRC works like clockwork, the working relationship with my new co-driver Klaus Wicha is very good. I'm confident that I'll be able to improve over the course of the rally."