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...
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.
SS1: 1800hrs Oaka 1 (2.8km)
The 2006 Acropolis Rally of Greece got underway on Thursday night with
the first of two visits to the spectacular Superspecial stage in the
Athens Olympic stadium. Cars raced head to head around the specially
constructed 2.8km tarmac stage in front of more than 40,000 spectators.
Sebastien Loeb took the first win of the rally, with Marcus Gronholm
second and Mikko Hirvonen third. On his 100th WRC rally, Petter Solberg
had the crowd on its feet as he duelled with brother Henning, while Chris
Atkinson battled against Manfred Stohl.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 2:21.4
SS2: 0838hrs Imittos 1 (11.44km)
Leg one continued on Friday morning as crews left the stadium service
park and headed out into the countryside north of Athens. The first
proper stage of the rally was an 11km rough gravel route that wound its
way up and over a mountain overlooking the city. Gronholm set the best
time to take the overnight rally lead from Loeb. Petter Solberg had a
puncture but Pirelli's anti deflation mousse enabled him to set the
second fastest time and leap up the order from 13th to third. Loeb set
the third quickest time and moved to second overall. A burst tyre cost
Petter's older brother Henning time over the final three kilometres and
he was fifteenth fastest.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 7:03.3
SS3: 0956hrs Skourta 1 (23.80km)
The next stage of the day was Skourta, famous from past Acropolis rallies
for its long and arduous mountain descent. Gronholm was the pace setter
once again and pulled out more of a lead over the rest of the field.
Petter Solberg was next quickest, despite the rocky road puncturing two
more of his tyres. Solberg moved ahead of Loeb to second on the overall
table. After a good start, Subaru's Chris Atkinson hit trouble when his
car developed a rear differential problem one third of the way through
the stage. The Australian pushed on as quickly as possible, but his time
was 1min 22sec slower than Gronholm's and he dropped to 18th place.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 14:40.1
SS4: 1114hrs Thiva 1 (23.76km)
The final stage of the morning loop was Thiva, a smoother road than the
previous two but a very demanding test with 63 junctions in its 23km.
Split times showed there was little to choose between Gronholm and
Solberg during the stage but at the line Gronholm stopped the clock
1.8sec sooner to clinch his third win of the day. Francois Duval went
third fastest in his Skoda Fabia while Sebastien Loeb, running first
through the loose gravel road, was fourth. Atkinson's ongoing mechanical
problem, allied to the high number of junctions, cost him a further 2min
30sec to the leaders. >From the finish control, crews returned to Athens
for a 30 minute service.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 17:16.9
SS5: 1420hrs Imittos 2 (11.44km)
In blazing sunshine and a temperature of 34 C crews left service for the
repeat loop of the morning's three stages. With most of the loose gravel
swept off the road during the first pass, the repeated Imittos featured a
cleaner, hard base littered with sharp rocks and stones. This, combined
with the blistering temperature, made the stage extremely hard on tyres.
Gronholm set the fastest time with Solberg, who elected to carry two
spare wheels in his Impreza, his closest rival 1.5sec behind. His car
back to full strength after a rear differential swap in service, Atkinson
set the ninth fastest time and began to claw back the time lost earlier.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 06:58.3
SS6: 1538hrs Skourta 2 (23.80km)
Gronholm continued his leading form with his fifth stage win of the day.
But once again, Solberg was right behind him as the closest competition.
Over the 23km stage at Skourta the Norwegian was just 4.9sec adrift. A
ground temperature of 44 C, a rough road churned up during the previous
pass and masses of razor sharp rooks caused puncture problems for many
crews. Chris Atkinson was one of those affected when he collected a flat
tyre 3km before the finish line.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 14:29.6
SS7: 1656hrs Thiva 2 (23.76km)
Gronholm made it a clean sweep of Friday's stages by winning the last
one of the Leg. Sebastien Loeb was second, followed by the Subarus of
Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson in third and fourth. The result kept
Gronholm in the overall lead with Solberg 26sec behind in second and Loeb
a further 35sec adrift in third.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 16:54.1
SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM SPORTING DIRECTOR, LUIS MOYA
"We are happy with the performance of Petter Solberg today. We've been matching the speed and battling with both Marcus and Sebastien and that makes us confident we can achieve a good result. On the other hand Chris started and finished the day well with top five stage times, however the problem with his rear differential cost him three and a half minutes. Now we have to expect that as a result of his road position tomorrow, he can deliver some good times improving his overall result."
PETTER SOLBERG: "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: "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."
NEWS FROM PIRELLI
Mario Isola, Pirelli Competizioni Rally Manager: We are quite happy because we know the competition is tough, the lead cars are fighting very hard and Petter is getting some excellent times. The new construction seems to be working quite well and compared to Sardinia the car and the tyres seem to be working together much better. We are making improvement step by step and that's been the case today.
Leg two starts at 0800hrs when competitors leave the Athens parc ferme and head west of the city for a loop of three more rough gravel stages. In the afternoon the loop will be repeated after a 30 minute service in Athens. At 134 competitive kilometres, Leg two is the longest of the rally and features the marathon 37km Kineta section, the longest individual stage of the event.