Following last night's ceremonial start in Athens, the seventh round of the 2002 World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally of Greece, began in earnest this morning when 84 cars left the Parnassos Park Ferme to contest the first of 16...
Following last night's ceremonial start in Athens, the seventh round of the 2002 World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally of Greece, began in earnest this morning when 84 cars left the Parnassos Park Ferme to contest the first of 16 rock-strewn stages.
Today's action took place on the rough mountain roads to the north of rally HQ in the town of Itea. Weather conditions were typical for the summer event - dry and hot - with temperatures soaring throughout the day to a maximum of 36c by mid-afternoon. As a result, leg one's stages remained dry and dusty, and a tough test for cars and drivers alike.
As with many loose surface events, a good road position proved extremely advantageous. This evening's leader board reflects the problems faced by the front runners as they swept away much of the loose material for the benefit of those behind. Running tenth on the road, Ford's Markko Martin was in an ideal position and he holds the overnight lead from Hyundai's Freddy Loix in second and team mate Colin McRae in third.
The rough conditions saw plenty of retirements, and more than a quarter of the initial starters dropped out. Tommi Makinen of the 555 Subaru World Rally Team was the highest-profile casualty when a collision with a massive boulder brought his rally to an end on SS6. A tough day too for his teammate Petter Solberg who lies 17th, although Toshi Arai enjoyed better fortune on his 2002 Subaru WRC debut and holds 13th
SS1 0904hrs Pavliani I (24.45km)
Fastest Time: Martin (Ford) 19:32.1
Markko Martin, Ford's young Estonian driver, got off to a great start on the first stage of the rally, finishing a full 13 seconds in front of the rest of the field. Peugeot's championship leader, Marcus Gronholm was second, followed by team-mate, Harri Rovanpera. 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Tommi Makinen had a good run through the tight and twisty stage finishing 5th, tied with Hyundai's Armin Schwarz. Bad news for Tommi's team mate Petter Solberg who half-spun his Subaru WRC2002 11kms from the start line and lost a minute and a half before he could restart. Petter's Japanese team-mate, Toshihiro Arai, got off to a great start in his first WRC appearance with the 555 Subaru team this season and was 10th.
SS2 1037hrs Karoutes I (18.89km)
Fastest Time: Radstrom (Citroen) 11:56.5
Making the most of the road that had been swept by those drivers running before him, twentieth on the road Thomas Radstrom went quickest on SS2 - the first of two passes through Karoutes. Hyundai's Freddy Loix and team-mate Armin Schwarz also benefited, finishing second and third respectively. 555 Subaru driver Solberg was quick to make up time by finishing fourth quickest followed by Markko Martin in his Ford Focus who was fifth. After the end of SS2, crews headed back to Parnassos for the first proper service of the day.
SS3 1236hrs Paleohori (20.52km)
Fastest Time: Loix (Hyundai) 13:54.9
Freddy Loix continued to capitalise on an advantageous running position, completing SS3 more than five seconds quicker than the other drivers. Richard Burns was second in his Peugeot 206, followed by Markko Martin who was third for Ford. Tommi Makinen was ninth quickest and Toshi Arai 15th.
More problems though for Tommi's Norwegian team-mate Petter Solberg when his car left the road and suffered right-rear wheel and suspension damage. He completed the stage but his valiant recovery suffered a setback and he dropped a further 40 seconds.
SS4 1329hrs Rengini (25.04km)
Fastest Time: Martin (Ford) 19:38.1
Markko Martin again set the pace on SS4, finishing five seconds ahead of Hyundai's Armin Schwarz who was second. Tommi Makinen was back on the attack and was third quickest , moving up two places overall to seventh. His team-mate Toshi Arai finished 14th whilst Petter Solberg, who was still affected by rear suspension damage from the previous stage, was 18th. Peugeot's championship leader, Gronholm finished in 20th place after spinning his car and running off the road.
SS5 1552hrs Inohori I (23.0km)
Fastest Time: Martin (Ford) 18:04.8
As expected, the rocky stages took their toll on mechanical components and several leading competitors collected time penalties for leaving the preceding service late after repair work. Hyundai's Armin Schwarz collected 20 seconds, Skoda driver Kenneth Eriksson 1 minute 20 and Petter Solberg 10 seconds. On the stage, Markko Martin continued his charge - winning his third of the day. He was closely followed by Colin McRae, who was second, and Freddy Loix who came in third. But Tommi Makinen's rally suffered a serious setback when a collision with a huge boulder severely damaged the steering on his Impreza WRC. He managed to complete the stage but lost power-steering and dropped around 40 seconds. Petter Solberg lost time with two spins and was 11th, followed by Toshi Arai who was 12th.
SS6 1640hrs Pavliani II (24.45km)
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 19:37.4
Mixed fortunes for the 555 Subaru World Rally Team on SS6. Petter Solberg achieved his best result of the day and his first stage win of the event when he finished almost six seconds clear of second place Colin McRae and Markko Martin who was third. In contrast though Tommi Makinen retired when his car lost a wheel as a result of the incident on the previous stage. His Japanese team-mate Toshi Arai was 16th.
Starts from Parnassos at 0715hrs. Crews will face another six stages and a total competitive distance of 158kms.