Petter Solberg continues to lead the Acropolis Rally following the opening loop this morning, but alarmingly he has lost bags of time running first on the road and having to play the 'road sweeper'.
Solberg went into the overnight service yesterday with a 51.6 second advantage. However he lost 17.3 seconds alone in SS7 this morning, the first test of the day, after only setting the seventh best time. 'Hollywood' then conceded another 20.1 seconds in SS8 – not helped by the fact he missed a junction, before ending the loop with the fourth best time in SS9, 14.4 seconds off the pace. The 2003 world champion thus heads into service with his cushion cut to just 5.4 seconds and with it all to do if he wants to remain out-front.
“Very slippery and rough stages, they have a lot of hairpins. But that's how it is. We will not change our strategy,” Solberg insisted. “The tyres worked well. We will push to the limit and hope to lose only a little time this afternoon. Hopefully they will not employ tactics. I am not going to back off.”
Sebastien Ogier meanwhile made the most of being fourth on the road and took a clean sweep of stage wins to haul himself up to second and right into victory contention: “We had a good morning,” said the Frenchman. “The special stages were good for us. We benefitted from our road position. It is still a long way to go and also there is the night stage. We will not make big changes to the car.”
Sebastien Loeb is next up in the sister Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC car, 9.6 seconds further back. Loeb set two second quickest times this morning, before finishing with a third best effort in SS9: “Today, I drove carefully in the hard places. I am happy to be here. It was very hard for the tyres,” he said after SS8. “I think the second passage will be very tough. I am used to being in a position like this, cleaning for the others.”
Further back Mikko Hirvonen is fourth, the best of the Fords, albeit 23.8 seconds off the lead and 8.8 seconds off the final place on the podium: “Ogier is really flying. I have a good feeling. But it is not enough,” Mikko conceded. “I will keep trying. We are still in the battle, even though it is tough. We have to push.”
Henning Solberg remains fifth, even though he lost quite a lot of ground due to brake problems in Ghymno 1 and Kefalari 1: “I drove as fast I could. We tried to fix the problem with the brakes, I pumped the pedal in SS9 and it was working,” explained the Norwegian.
Matthew Wilson rounds out the top six, despite complaining of intermittent gearbox issues, ahead of F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen and new SWRC class leader, Juho Hanninen. Hanninen gained the SWRC lead on the first test today when Ott Tanak went off the road and rolled his Fiesta S2000. Hanninen is now over 2 minutes up on Bernardo Sousa, his closest class rival.
Of the rest Dennis Kuipers is tenth followed by Frigyes Turan, Hermann Gassner Jr, Eyvind Brynildsen, Armindo Araujo and Jari-Matti Latvala in positions 11 through to 15. Latvala, who was slowed in the final test yesterday due to transmissions problems, lost the turbo this morning towards the end of SS7. He then had to limp through the next two stages – conceding more than 10 minutes.