Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team man Evgeny Novikov has extended his lead on the Acropolis Rally of Greece.
Novikov seized the initiative in the dramatic opening test
this evening, which saw Sebastien Ogier, Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg all hit problems.
The Russian then went quickest again in SS2, the night time run through Kineta, and will now go into the overnight halt with a 30.3 second cushion.
“I am very satisfied with today. We tried to keep a good rhythm and maintain good speed from the start and it looks like that has worked well," said Novikov. "We had no problems and no big moments. There was some dust on the first stage [SS1], not everywhere, but in some of the slow sections, and then we made a small mistake under braking on SS2 so I think that we could have gone quicker in places.
“I know this rally quite well – this is my fifth time here now – so maybe that helps a little. To be leading is a great feeling, and I hope that it continues! For tomorrow I will just try to keep this good rhythm, watch the splits and continue this good form.”
Dani Sordo meanwhile is second and while the Spaniard 'only' set the fourth best time in SS2 he wasn't too concerned.
“When I saw the splits [in SS1] and the messages telling about the problems that some of the other guys were having, I decided to take it a little bit easier”, Sordo explained. “Obviously, it's a very good start, but the misfortunes of some of the others show just how difficult this rally is. The main thing is that we're right up there and haven't had any major problems. Maybe I was a little too cautious on SS2, but Evgeny's lead is small on a rally like this one. I feel confident about the rest of the weekend.”
Jari-Matti Latvala completes the provisional podium in his Volkswagen Polo R WRC and with his handbrake issue pretty much fixed the Finn posted the second best time in SS2, cutting the gap to P2 from 15.7 seconds to 8.8.
“We had to make do with third place today: it was a tough, eventful day and lots of teams had serious problems," Latvala said. "Qualifying didn't begin all that well for us, and starting in fourth position was far from ideal. The first stage didn't go as we would have liked either. However, following a few changes to the chassis and the differential during the first service, our Polo performed much better in the night stage and we were able to gain ground on second place. We've got a good starting position tomorrow and we'll try to put the teams in front of us under pressure. But heavy-handedness doesn't get you anywhere here in Greece – the risk of damaging the car is too high. You have to pick your fights very carefully here.”
Behind, Thierry Neuville is fourth, while VW third driver, Andreas Mikkelsen and Nasser Al-Attiyah are fifth and sixth.
"The stages were a lot rougher than we expected today," Neuville noted. "We drove quite calmly at first and then when I felt more confident we went a bit faster. But I think everybody had the same problem. I don't think that my set-up was quite right for the conditions on the first stage [SS1], because I didn't have so much confidence turning into the tight hairpins.
“We damaged something on the car on that stage too [SS1] and I couldn't drive as hard as I wanted, but the mechanics fixed the car perfectly for the second stage [SS2]. The car felt much better on SS2. We hit a big rock, but luckily we have a very strong car underneath us so it was no drama.”