Lambros Athanassoulas took an emotional win on the Acropolis Rally of Greece at the weekend, the sixth round in the 2009 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship.

The 32-year-old from Loutraki had only driven his Skoda Fabia S2000 for the first time a few days before the start of the event, but set out to impress existing and potential sponsors with an eye on a full P-WRC campaign in 2010 - and beat the world's best in the process.

He immediately raised eyebrows too when he set the second fastest time on SS1 - even though he thought he'd picked up a puncture - and then took the lead on SS2. He maintained his advantage during the opening day, even though his Skoda was over-steering.

Despite a small off two corners from the end of SS9, he had established a 49.9 second lead on Saturday before a misfire on SS11 allowed Nasser Al-Attiyah to close and then take the P-WRC led on SS12.

With his car fixed, Athanassoulas fought back and thrilled his local fans by re-taking the lead on the final leg. He went into the last stage just 9.6 seconds ahead, but not only did he hold his nerve, he also increased his winning margin to 22.3 seconds.

"Winning here means so much to me! It is a dream come true and I really have no words to describe this feeling," he reflected. "I am so happy I can cry. Yesterday we had a minor problem that dropped us to second place, but we fought back this morning to take back the place that was ours.

"We worked so long and so hard for this, and I believe the key to our win was our performance on the first day of this rally. I need to thank so many people, my team, my sponsors and my brother who is also my team manager. I really can't say thank you enough times!"

Al-Attiyah's main priority meanwhile was to outscore his title rivals - and although he'd have rather collected ten points for a win, he wasn't going to throw away eight points by risking second place on the final stage.

It was far from a trouble-free run though for him, as he had to use all his experience to ensure his Barwa Rally Team Impreza reached the finish. Overheating problems on Friday cost some time, but it was a bent steering rack on day two which was ultimately the difference between first and second.

Having hit a large rock just over halfway through SS8, he struggled to keep the car in a straight line for the remaining 10kms. Well rehearsed running repairs allowed Al-Attiyah to continue and at the end of the day less than 10 seconds separated the top three going into the final day of competition.

Al-Attiyah led going into leg three, but when Athanassoulas took 11.9 seconds off him on SS14, the five times FIA Middle East Rally champion decided second, on this occasion, was good enough.

"We fought hard and I am really, really happy with second place. It is always good to be on the podium and we now have five good results in a row," said Nasser. "Lambros may have won, but I was able to take the important points here with my Subaru ahead of the other guys in the championship.

"We now have a small lead. We will take this to Rally GB [the last round of the championship] and hope to defend it."

The final podium spot went to Armindo Araujo and while he was very much in contention for the win going into the last day, overnight changes to the car back fired and he had to ease off to ensure third and the six points that keep his title hopes alive.

"Yesterday had been a tough day for our car, and last night at service we decided to change many parts to be in the best position to fight today," he explained. "Unfortunately, the car did not work as we expected and the set-up was too soft.

"It meant that we could not carry the speed on these roads to attack for the win, and we had to drive carefully in order to protect our points.

"This third place however, means very important points to us. We are four points behind for the last event, but this championship is very, very strong and for sure anything can still happen."

Further down the order, Toshi Arai used all of his Acropolis experience to pace himself well. Indeed despite overheating problems on day 1 and almost rolling in SS7, he remained in the fight for a top result until a traction control arm broke on the final stage on day two. That dropped him out of the battle for the win and he eventually came home fourth.

Martin Prokop was next up in P5, unable to challenge for fourth on Sunday due to gearbox problems, while Bernardo Sousa and Andis Neiksans came in sixth and seventh, albeit almost 4 minutes further back.

Reigning Production champion Patrik Flodin took the final point, although he had another pretty torrid event, losing over a minute on day one with set-up problems and then more time on Saturday when the centre differential broke on SS9 and SS11.

In total 13 runners were classified in the PWRC, with Spyros Pavlides and Mark Tapper rounding out the top ten, followed by Gianluca Linari, Patrik Sandell and Frederic Sauvan.

Sandell had been in contention for the title up to this weekend, but engine problems on day two dropped him right back and ultimately ended any hopes he had of taking the crown.

Four PWRC runners retired, namely Stefano Marrini, Gabor Mayer, Egoi Eder Vald?s L?pez and Martin Semerad.

The Production Car World Rally Championship now takes a break before continuing with the Rally Australia in September.


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