Ford's Jari-Matti Latala has taken the lead on the Acropolis Rally of Greece after setting the pace in the opening test tonight.
Latvala, who is returning from injury after breaking his left collarbone last month, stormed through the opening stage, the 25.24 kilometre Kineta test - the longest of the rally - completing it in 17 minutes 38 seconds, 2.8 seconds up on Sebastien Loeb. It was the perfect start for the 27-year-old on his return to competition after having to sit out Rally Argentina.
“The stage felt very fast, but perhaps it was because I've not been in a rally car for a few weeks,” Latvala said. “My split times were similar to Sébastien Loeb's but I pulled clear at the hairpins in the final section. I had no pain in my shoulder, which is encouraging for the rest of the rally, and now I will have some treatment from our physio. This will be a rough, tough rally, so I must take care.”
Loeb meanwhile was fairly pleased with second: “Everything went well, the road was completely dry and we made the best choice in going for the Michelin Latitude Cross hard tyres. I'd rather be two or three seconds ahead than behind, but there's nothing in it,” said the Frenchman. “We just had to get to the end of the stage without making any mistakes.”
Mikko Hirvonen was next up, 4.3 seconds further back in the sister 'works' DS3 WRC car: “Although I was tenth out on the road, I could see that the racing line still wasn't completely swept. I think there were only one or two cars ahead of me that drove on the line that I would like to take. As a result, I lost a bit of time to the top two,” he explained.
Behind, Mads Ostberg came through in fourth, 13.7 seconds off the lead, and narrowly ahead of Petter Solberg in fifth. Solberg, who had been quickest in the qualifying stage, opted for the softer tyre and at the finish he conceded his gamble was an error.
“It was my choice,” Solberg stated. “The team said it was a risk and they were right. I thought the tyres could work well in the falling temperatures and I expected the roads to be sandier with our low start position. But the car slid around a lot, even before the asphalt. It's not the end of the world. I've led several rallies this season during the first leg, but now I'm the chaser, so let's see how that works.”
Further back, M-Sport duo Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tank lie sixth and seventh respectively, followed by fellow Ford runner Martin Prokop, Citroen Junior WRT man Thierry Neuville and VW Motorsport's Sebastian Ogier in positions 8 through to 10.
“For sure this [SS1] was not the easiest stage to start with. It was quite difficult and there are a lot of tricky places,” Novikov reflected. “There is an asphalt section in the middle and we took it easy through there as we have never driven that section in competition and I didn't want to take any risks. So we lost a bit of time there.
"Apart from that, everything was fine. The stage was completely dry and there was no rain at all.”
In the support categories, Valeriy Gorban took the early lead in the PWRC, 1 second up on Benito Guerra, while Pontus Tidemand heads the WRC Academy, 3.9 seconds ahead of Elfyn Evans.
The Acropolis Rally now continues on Friday and it is a marathon day for competitors, who face more than 700km of driving and almost 16 hours behind the wheel. They start at 06.00 [local time] and journey north around the Gulf of Corinth to tackle stages near Itea that have not been used since 2009. After leaving Loutraki there are only two short remote service zones in Itea, during which competitors can only use spare parts carried in the rally car. The day ends at 21.50 [local time] after a 45 minute service in Loutraki, following eight stages and 169.12 competitive kilometres.
Acropolis Rally: Overall standings after Stage 1 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC 17mins 38.0secs
2. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 02.8secs
3. Mikko Hirvonen
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 07.1secs
4. Mads Ostberg
Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 13.7secs
5. Petter Solberg
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC 4mins 14.6secs
6. Evgeny Novikov
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 20.4secs
7. Ott Tanak
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 36.3secs
8. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 37.4secs
9. Thierry Neuville
Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 37.8secs
10. Sebastien Ogier
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 41.8secs
11. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 53.6secs
12. Daniel Oliveira
Brazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 18.2secs
13. Andreas Mikkelsen
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +01mins 20.5secs
14. Armindo Araujo
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +01mins 24.1secs
16. Valeriy Gorban
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +02mins 04.3secs
17. Benito Guerra
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +02mins 05.3secs
20. Paulo Nobre
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +02mins 14.1secs
PWRC standings after Stage 1 – Top 3:
1. Valeriy Gorban
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 19mins 42.3secs
2. Benito Guerra
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 01.0secs
3. Nicolas Fuchs
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +00mins 27.6secs
all times unofficial