Citroen's Sebastien Loeb remains in the lead at the end of the opening leg of the Acropolis Rally of Greece, although Jari-Matti Latvala did manage to reduce the Frenchman's advantage on the third loop of the day.
Loeb began the day in second place, 2.8 seconds off the lead, but moved to the front in SS4, when Latvala overshot a junction. Seb then pulled out a 10.1 second lead on the middle loop and while he more or less maintained that margin in SS7 and SS8, he conceded 3.7 seconds in SS9, the final stage of the day. Loeb will now go into the overnight service with a 6.5 second cushion.
“We had a good day,” Loeb reflected. “No problems at all and with a good battle. It's always better to be first in the classification, but it's very close. So I will push tomorrow.”
“It's been a reasonably good day for me,” added Latvala, who is returning from injury. “The car is in good condition, but tomorrow is the rough leg. My arm is okay. At the start I wasn't so confident, but I got the confidence back in the afternoon.
“I will try to catch Loeb tomorrow, but it is like in Finland, where the differences in stage times are in seconds.”
Fellow Ford man Petter Solberg is next up, having moved back up to third this afternoon in SS8, when he posted his second quickest time of the day. The Norwegian admitted though that he was lucky to still be in the fight after a big scare in SS6, when his car's underbody struck a rock in a compression following a crest.
Mikko Hirvonen lies fourth, although a bad final loop, in which he picked up two punctures – one in SS7 and one in SS9, has dropped him back, 47.9 seconds off P1 and 31.9 seconds off the final place on the podium.
“We had another puncture in Thiva 2. I went wide in one corner and we hit a bank. I couldn't see from the dust of [Mads] Ostberg. Tomorrow we will try and catch Petter. We know that he is not very close, but I don't want to slow down too much,” said Hirvonen.
Further back, Evgeny Novikov rounds out the top five, although turbo problems in SS7 and gearbox issues in SS8 cost him time. Martin Prokop trails the Russian, albeit 51.7 seconds further back in sixth, followed by Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mads Ostberg, the latter losing over 3 minutes in the final test of the day when he went off the road. VW Motorsport duo Sebastien Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen complete the top ten, with Thierry Neuville down in eleventh after breaking a driveshaft in Thiva 2.
In the support categories, Nicolas Fuchs moved into the lead in the PWRC in SS8, when Valeriy Gorban hit problems, while in the WRC Academy Elfyn Evans remains on top, completing the day 29.5 seconds up on Alastair Fisher.
As for retirements, Ott Tanak was the most notable casualty, forced out following an off in SS7. He had been running seventh overall. It is not yet known if the M-Sport Ford man will be able to re-start under the Rally 2 regulations.
The Acropolis Rally now continues on Saturday and day two is the roughest of the event, with eight stages on the bill, totalling 149.56 competitive kilometres. SS10, Klenia Mycenae 1, is due to start at 08.38 hours local time [06.38 hours UK time].
Acropolis Rally: Overall standings after Stage 9 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 2hours 14mins 01.3secs
2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 06.5secs
3. Petter Solberg
Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 17.7secs
4. Mikko Hirvonen
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 47.9secs
5. Evgeny Novikov
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 54.9secs
6. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 46.7secs
7. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +04mins 56.9secs
8. Mads Ostberg
Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 14.6secs
9. Sebastien Ogier
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +05mins 27.2secs
10. Andreas Mikkelsen
VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +06mins 31.0secs
11. Thierry Neuville
Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC +07mins 48.7secs
12. Armindo Araujo
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +09mins 33.0secs
15. Nicolas Fuchs
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +15mins 45.1secs
16. Paulo Nobre
WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +16mins 06.6secs
PWRC standings after Stage 9 - Top 3:
1. Nicolas Fuchs
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2hours 29mins 46.4secs
2. Subhan Aksa
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +03mins 12.3secs
3. Ricardo Trivino
Subaru Impreza WRX STi +04mins 20.9secs
SS3. Daniel Oliveira
Brazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Retired from leg
SS7/SS8. Ott Tanak
M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC Went off road
all times unofficial