Loeb nips Gronholm on Acropolis Rally 1st leg

Loeb nips Gronholm on Acropolis Rally 1st leg

Sebastien Loeb holds the early lead in the Acropolis Rally, the eighth round of the World Rally Championship, and is looking to set a new WRC record with a fifth consecutive win in his Citroen Xsara WRC. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel ...

Sebastien Loeb holds the early lead in the Acropolis Rally, the eighth round of the World Rally Championship, and is looking to set a new WRC record with a fifth consecutive win in his Citroen Xsara WRC.

S?bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
However, the road in the mountains of Greece may yet end up being rocky for the French ace, as Marcus Gronholm is on the attack, and only six seconds behind the WRC points leader after the first leg's seven stages.

Starting first, and having the open the stages -- thus suffering from heavy dust conditions -- was certainly a factor for Loeb on the first day, as could be expected. Only three wins on seven stages for the defending champion is definitely par, and he only claimed the lead on the final stage of the day.

"There have been rallies where this handicap has been lessened by damp conditions. But that can't happen everywhere, so it's only normal that I should the pay the price of being first on the road in dry weather from time to time," Loeb admitted. "Happily, the end of Elatia-Zeli was clean and I was able to push hard, both times through. The first time so as not to lose too much ground and the second time through to take the lead."

Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen.
Photo by Marlboro Peugeot Total.
Gronholm is certainly driving for the win in his Peugeot 307 WRC, and his efforts gain him top times on two special stages today. It looked like he might have entered Saturday in the lead as well, until Loeb pulled a stunning 13-second gap to everyone on the final stage of the day, the second pass through Elatia-Zeli.

"It has been quite a good day for me, with only a small problem with the paddleshift on the steering wheel, which stopped working on SS3 and SS4," Gronholm summed up the first leg. "I had to use the back-up lever, which was much slower.

"I was also held back by my tyres, which went off from the middle of the two long 32-kilometre Elatia-Zeli stages," the double world champion explained the outcome. "But at the end of the day I am happy as I have set two fastest times and I am only six seconds behind Sebastien Loeb. I think tomorrow's stages will suit us better: these stages are the most difficult of the rally. The surfaces are very damaging, and our tyres should work well in these conditions. I'm going to attack!"

Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
WRC veteran Carlos Sainz, returning for a second event, started tenth, well back, and took advantage of that position to claim a stage win and third place overall after the first day.

"I obviously benefited from a cleaner surface," Loeb's Citroen teammate confirmed. "I tried to keep it very clean, taking extra care through the rougher portions. The balance of my Xsara suits me perfectly. It is more to my liking, more precise than in Turkey.

Another happy beneficiary of Loeb's road-opening work was Ford privateer Mikko Hirvonen, winner on SS3, and fifth on the day, just behind Ford works driver and fellow Finn, Toni Gardemeister.

"We had a perfect morning," Hirvonen beamed. "Our road position certainly helped but we made no mistakes and had a good run. Tomorrow will be rough and I'll be happy to keep my position!"

Gronholm's teammate at Peugeot, Estonian rally ace Markko Martin, had a much tougher day, and lies well back in ninth place, 1:49 back of the lead and seemingly out of contention for the lead.

"I don't really understand today," a puzzled Martin pondered after the leg. "The car seemed difficult to drive -- maybe my choice of tyres was not the best for the afternoon's loop of stages. Tomorrow I will go back to the tyre choice we had this morning, which seemed to work better for us."

Petter Solberg and Phil Mills.
Photo by Subaru World Rally Team.
Subaru's championship challenger, Petter Solberg, had a rougher day yet. It started off badly when he spun off the road and into a ditch on the second special stage, and got worse when he broke a driveshaft on SS5. With only three-wheel-drive powering his Impreza, Solberg dropped precious minutes behind, and finished the day in 14th place, more than three minutes behind the leaders.

"We've had such bad luck today and so many things have gone against us," the Norwegian veteran pilot rued his luck. "Everything that we'd planned went completely wrong and I'm very disappointed. Damaging the driveshaft at such a critical part of the day, with three stages ahead, left me no opportunity to fight. It's very hard to accept, but that's just how it is."

The challenge of Acropolis continues with eight stages tomorrow, and concludes with the final four specials on Sunday.

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Daniel Elena , Marc Marti , Toni Gardemeister , Markko Martin
Teams Citroën World Rally Team