Loeb and Ogier in hot pursuit of Solberg
The first leg of the Acropolis Rally has been dominated by the Citroën DS3 WRCs, which set the six quickest time of the day. Petter Solberg took advantage of his starting position to open up a big gap over his rivals. Almost a minute behind the Norwegian come the Citroën Total World Rally Team crews who are still in contention for a podium finish. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are in second place while Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia are lying fourth.
Made up of 141 kilometers of stages, the first day of the Acropolis Rally was already a tough challenge. The leg began with the Thiva and Elatia stages which the drivers reckoned were pretty quick. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were first out and once again had to clean the route for their pursuers.
The seven-time world champions lost some thirty seconds in the first two stages: “The rain that fell during reconnaissance dampened the stages, but it has all dried out since then and we had to sweep off a thick cloud of dust. We had a puncture at the rear in SS2 that didn’t cost us much time. Apart from Solberg, our rivals haven’t really taken full advantage of their starting order in this stage,” was how Loeb analyzed the situation at the remote service halt in Kamena Vourla, 250 kilometers from the Loutraki service park.
We had a puncture at the rear in SS2 that didn’t cost us much time.
Sébastien Ogier was fourth out on the road and he regretted the fact that he had not really taken full advantage of his position: “We’ve had a rather difficult start to the rally. I was able to relax in the opening kilometers of SS2. Then the car began oversteering a lot and I wasn’t really able to go pedal to the metal on what was my first outing on this stage. Looking on the positive side, I’d say it’s just the start of the rally, but there’s no way I can be satisfied after dropping thirty-five seconds this morning.”
The Eleftherohori stages were much harder on the cars and it was difficult to open up a gap. Second time through Thiva (SS5) – the only stage covered twice by the crews today - Ogier put an end to Solberg’s series of fastest times. The rally took on a more tactical aspect in the last stage of the day. After puncturing in SS5, Loeb went into maximum attack mode and set the quickest time. He was unable to do anything about the tactical choices of his rivals and he finished the day in second place 51.6s behind Solberg.
“It was difficult being first, but despite our two punctures I reckon we’ve come out of it well,” summed up Loeb in the service halt at the end of the leg. “Petter Solberg is the only one to have taken full advantage of his position. It’s going to be difficult to knock him off the top of the time sheets. Where I’m concerned it’s looking more complicated as Mikko Hirvonen and Sébastien Ogier are only a few seconds behind. But there’s no question of lifting off, there are several challenges to take up tomorrow and Sunday!”
Ogier who finished the day in fourth place 57.2 s behind, was already looking ahead to the second day’s racing: “We’ve managed to avoid all today’s pitfalls and we’ve got a good position for tomorrow, but the toughest part is still to come! We’ll have to push very hard to pass Mikko and Seb. As for Petter I think it’ll be very difficult to catch him in normal circumstances.”