Evgeny Novikov has taken the early lead on the Acropolis Rally of Greece although three of the front runners have already hit problems, including runaway championship, leader Sebastien Ogier.

Novikov, who had been third fastest in qualifying this morning, completed the opening test - the 47.70 kilometre Kineta-Pissia stage - in 32 minutes 58.6 seconds, a massive 20.6 seconds up on Dani Sordo, who was 'best of the rest'.

"[An] impressive time," said the Russian, who drives for the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team. "It's time to push. It was only the first stage and so we still have to go hard."

Meanwhile, Ogier was forced out with 'technical' problems, although it has already been confirmed by Volkswagen that he will re-start on Saturday under the Rally 2 regulations. Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen and Qatar M-Sport man Mads Ostberg were also both in the wars. Hirvonen dropped almost 6 minutes with steering problems, while Ostberg lost a wheel.

"Basically the whole wheel came off, the rim and everything. It was just in the beginning going on to a concrete step. I need to see the inboard before I can say more, but there was no real impact," Ostberg explained.

"There is no connection between the steering wheel and steering rack," Hirvonen said of his own woes. "We needed to put it in reverse six times in some corners. Something is wrong with the car."

Jari-Matti Latvala also had problems and reported that he lost about 10 seconds due to re-occurring issues with the handbrake. Nevertheless though, the Finn was still third fastest, 36.3 seconds off Novikov and 15.7 seconds off Sordo: "It was a slippery and very difficult stage, I came through, but I had a hand brake problem which isn't working properly," Latvala confirmed. "I overshot in one place and dropped ten seconds there. But this was a very difficult start, the car was understeering a lot and with the hand brake issue it was very tough in some places making the corners."

Further back, Thierry Neuville lies fourth, only 2 seconds off P3, with Andreas Mikkelsen fifth and Nasser Al-Attiyah sixth: "I couldn't turn into the hairpins with these settings," Neuville said. "A really different rally from that of last year, I have to think about it for the next stage."

"I stalled the car three times in the hairpins - stupid mistakes," Mikkelsen added. "I had some difficulties, but we are here. I just made a lot of mistakes."

Behind, Martin Prokop is seventh, ahead of Khalid Al-Qassimi, Robert Kubica and Yuriy Protasov in positions 8 through to 10. Kubica incidentally heads the WRC2 class, despite a few moments.

Day one now concludes with the night time run through the 26.05 km Kineta test, scheduled to start at 21.26 hours local time [19.26 hours UK time].

Acropolis Rally of Greece: Overall standings after Stage 1 (Top 10):

1. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC 32mins 58.6secs M
2. Dani Sordo Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +20.6s M
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +36.3s M
4. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +38.3s M
5. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +54.4s M
6. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +57.5s M
7. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 34.3s M
8. Khalid Al-Qassimi Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +2m 13.3s M
9. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC +2m 51.6s WRC2
10. Yuriy Protasov Ford Fiesta RRC +3m 12.2s WRC2


11. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 16.0s M
21. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +5m 56.2s M

WRC2 standings after Stage 1 (Top 3):

1. Robert Kubica Citroen DS3 RRC 35mins 55.2secs WRC2
2. Yuriy Protasov Ford Fiesta RRC +20.5s WRC2
3. Oleksiy Kikireshko MINI John Cooper Works +31.0s WRC2

JWRC standings after Stage 1 (Top 3):

1. Yeray Lemes Ford Fiesta R2 39mins 46.0secs JWRC
2. Marius Aasen Ford Fiesta R2 +02.5s JWRC
3. Jose Antonio Suarez Ford Fiesta R2 +21.0s JWRC

Notable retirements:

SS1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC Technical problem M*

*denotes due to re-start under the Rally 2 regulations

all times unofficial


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