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...
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.
SS1: 1900 (Thurs) Lilea - Parnassos 1 (2.25km)
The 2004 Acropolis Rally began with a circuit of the 2.2km Super Special Stage just outside the picturesque village of Lilea. Running in pairs, in front of thousands of spectators, the opening test was the first opportunity for the drivers to tackle the dusty gravel roads the event is renowned for. Marcus Gronholm recorded the fastest time with Subaru's Petter Solberg just 0.2 seconds behind and Carlos Sainz a further 1.4 seconds back in third. After the stage, crews returned to the Lamia parc ferme and an overnight stop ahead of the remaining eight stages that make up Leg one. Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 1:53.1
SS2: 0753 Rengini 1 (11.84km)
Continuing yesterday's form, Peugeot took another stage win, but this time it was number two driver Harri Rovanpera who was quickest. Negotiating the test's rough, loose gravel surface, the Finn finished 0.7 seconds ahead of team-mate Marcus Gronholm, who was second. Subaru's Petter Solberg was third, while team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was sixth. Starting with a very steep uphill section that was littered with loose rocks, the 11km stage took crews through a series of rocky hairpins before concluding with a fast downhill section to the finish. Making his works debut for the Mitsubishi team, there were problems for Daniel Sola. Hitting a rock mid test, the Spaniard damaged his Lancer's front suspension and dropped over a half a minute. Citroen works drivers Carlos Sainz and Sebastien Loeb were off the pace, finishing twelfth and thirteenth respectively, but there were no retirements and after the stage crews moved directly to the start of SS3.=20 Fastest Time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 8:39.7
SS3: 0821 Elatia - Zeli 1 (32.55km)
Described by World Champion co-driver Phil Mills as 'one of the trickiest stages of the whole rally', SS3 consisted of an 11km sixth-gear flat out section followed by a series of rocky, deceptive crests, which bought a host of problems for some of the leading competitors. Markko Martin's rally came to a dramatic end when his Focus slid off the road and became stuck at the bottom of a steep bank. Although the car stopped just metres from the roadside, and did not suffer any mechanical damage, last year's Acropolis winner was unable to rejoin the road in the time allowed and retired. Problems too for Armin Schwarz. Competing with Skoda on the Czech manufacturer's first WRC event of the year, Schwarz's Octavia collected a broken rear wishbone 27km from the start and he retired. Next to go was Mitsubishi's Daniel Sola. Off the pace due to suspension damage sustained in the previous test, the Spaniard pulled over a few km from the start to let Ford privateer Roman Kresta pass. But the simple manoeuvre turned into a disaster when Kresta drove into the back of the Mitsubishi, causing extensive damage to both cars and blocking the stage to further competitors. Both WRC drivers eventually retired and the remaining crews were awarded representative times by the organisers. Looking to the leaders, Gronholm was fastest, with Rovanpera second and Solberg third. After the finish, crews returned to Lamia for the second service of the day. Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 21:59.6
SS4: 1135 Pavliani 1 (24.45km)
Despite running second on the road after Martin's retirement, Petter Solberg was fastest through the classic 24km loose gravel Pavliani stage to break Peugeot's monopoly, take his first win of the event and the overall lead. Loeb was second fastest and Gronholm third. Renowned for its punishing bedrock base and two large jumps, the stage includes one of the twistiest sections of the entire rally. Collecting a front brake problem mid-test after damaging one of his Impreza's brake pipes on a stone, Mikko Hirvonen negotiated the remaining twists and turns with just the handbrake to control his braking and lost over a minute and a half to the leaders. Citroen driver Carlos Sainz lost more than twenty minutes when he stopped in the stage to make repairs to a broken front damper, while Rovanpera struggled with overheating brakes. After the finish, crews moved directly to the start of SS5.=20 Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 19:38.4
SS5: 1224 Stromi 1 (14.61km)
Another stage win for Solberg, this time by a margin of 8.4 seconds. Loeb was second fastest and Francois Duval, the remaining Ford works driver, third. A very narrow stage, the 14km test from the town of Stromi demands the ultimate in precision driving and is renowned for the huge rocks and boulders that lie hidden in the grass by the roadside. There were no leading retirements, but Marcus Gronholm lost over ten seconds when he spun and stalled the engine of his 307, while Carlos Sainz lost a further another ten minutes with his persistent suspension problem. Having stopped at the end of SS4 and changed his Impreza's broken brake pipe for a spare, Mikko Hirvonen was back on the pace and was sixth fastest. After a fast downhill finish, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of SS6.=20 Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 11:36.4
SS6: 1327 Eleftherohori (18.44km)
Petter's consistent pace netted him a hat trick of stage wins as he was again fastest on the one and only pass through the 18km test from Eleftherohori. Rovanpera was second quickest, but just 0.4 seconds ahead of Subaru's 23-year-old signing Mikko Hirvonen who was third. After the disappointment of the brake problem on SS4, Hirvonen was making a spirited recovery. Struggling on the slippery road surface, which was made more treacherous by light rainfall, Peugeot's Gronholm suffered another spin and lost a further ten seconds. He ended the test in second position overall, 31.3 seconds off Petter's winning time. There were problems for remaining Skoda works driver, Toni Gardemeister. Seven kilometres from the start, the top mount of his Octavia's rear-left shock absorber collapsed, which cut through the bodywork and also damaged a rear wheel. He dropped over two minutes to the leaders. Ford's Francois Duval suffered a puncture, while Sainz lost another six minutes as he nursed his damaged Xsara to the finish. Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 11:24.4
SS7: 1618 Pavliani 2 (24.45km)
Solberg and team-mate Hirvonen experienced no problems over the muddy bedrock of the repeated Pavliani stage and scooped a fourth consecutive win and fifth fastest time respectively. Rovanpera was second fastest, with Duval third. While Solberg and Hirvonen capitalised on an ideal tyre choice for the cool and damp conditions, other's weren't so lucky, Sebastien Loeb, who finished almost 30 seconds behind Solberg felt his chosen tyres were too hard. Gardemeister struggled with an anti-roll bar problem and was tenth fastest. After the stage, crews moved directly to the start of SS8.=20 Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 20:31.9
SS8: 1707 Stromi 2 (14.61km)
Shaving 4.4 seconds off his previous time through the 14km test, Petter Solberg continued his dominant run of wins to extend his overall lead to 55.1 seconds. Loeb was second fastest and Duval third. Taking crews uphill through a series of hairpins, the repeated test ended with a fast downhill to the finish. After the stage was complete, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of the Leg's final test, SS9. Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 11:32.0
SS9: 1827 Lilea - Parnassos 2 (2.25km)
A second visit to the crowd-pleasing Super Special at Lilea offered 7,000 spectators more non-stop action as cars went head to head around the short 2.25km stage. The last stage of the day was also the last of Gardemeister's point-scoring rally when his Skoda suffered an engine fire mid test and retired. Duval was quickest to take his first win of the rally and move up into overall third, while Carlsson was second fastest and Stohl third. After the finish, crews returned to Lamia for the final service of the day. Fastest Time: Duval (Ford) 1:54.9
Petter Solberg: 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: 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.
David Lapworth, Team Principal: We're very happy with such a good performance today from Petter. He seems confident in the capabilities of the car and the tyres and his overall lead tonight puts him in a strong position for the rest of the event. It's been a good day too for Mikko, although the incident on SS4 means that the overall results don't really reflect this. Mikko was unlucky to collect the damage, but we all accept that it's just one of those incidents that happens in rallying from time to time. He has driven exactly according to our plan, and has recorded some very good stage times, regularly beating far more experienced drivers.
News from Pirelli
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Tyres Director of Motorsport: The key to Petter's successful performance today was his ability to not only use the right tyres but the correct cut, under very difficult circumstances when there was the constant risk of rain. If it stays dry tomorrow the stages will be a tough endurance test for the tyres but if as seems probable it rains, then it will be a completely different ball game.