30 March 2014
ERC: Breen on top on Acropolis Rally of Greece
Craig Breen heads thrilling fight on the Acropolis Rally of Greece, the latest round in the FIA European Rally Championship
Craig Breen holds top spot on the legendary Acropolis Rally of Greece, round three of the FIA European Rally Championship, at the end of the opening tarmac leg, although a debut ERC win for Peugeot's 208T16 is far from guaranteed with Bryan Bouffier and Kajetan Kajetanowicz both close behind.
Bouffier took the early lead after he won the opening stage in his Citroën DS3 RRC. But the number one seed hit trouble when he struck a rock cutting a corner on the next stage and punctured his front-right tyre in the process. Bouffier's delay handed first place to Kevin Abbring, who was quickest through the test in the second Peugeot Rally Academy-entered 208 T16.
Despite almost spinning at a hairpin on stage three, Abbring was in front at midday service in Loutraki. “I was focused but I pulled the handbrake too aggressively and we nearly spun,” said the Dutch driver. “But the car has been perfect, a big surprise because it is so new. Me and the entire team can be very happy and I'm really pleased to be back competing at this level and being competitive too.”
Abbring was still leading by 5.8s after he collected his second stage win of the day on the fourth test. But with fluid leaking from the front of his car, the 25-year-old was already in trouble. He started the next stage but stopped during the run. And although he eventually reached the finish of Aghionori, his time loss was more than three minutes and he retired a high water temperature shortly afterwards.
“It's very disappointing for Kevin but we must take our hats off to him and Peugeot for the job they were doing,” said Breen, whose advantage over second-placed Bouffier after Saturday's closing stage stands at 14.7s. “But it's a fantastic achievement that we have one car leading overnight so it's a big pat on the back to the everyone involved. I don't think there has been a debut like this. I'm very happy.”
Bouffier started Saturday's final stage in third but overhauled Kajetanowicz for second by going 1.3s quicker than the Pole. “I don't know if I could lead the rally without these mistakes but for sure I could be closer to the lead,” said the Frenchman. “The car has been perfect, the driver just needs to be better.”
Kajetanowicz's only significant moment occurred on stage two when he overshot a junction on a slippery section. The multiple Polish title-winner is 0.3s behind Bouffier in his LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5.
European championship leader Esapekka Lappi is fourth overnight and eager for the rally to switch to gravel on Sunday after conceding that he couldn't go any faster in his Skoda Fabia Super 2000 on the asphalt stages. “This is more or less the speed we can do and if I push more I will crash,” said the 23-year-old from Finland. “For sure my lack of experience on Tarmac makes a difference and I don't have the confidence but also we don't have the turbo compared to the others.”
After surviving a trip into a ditch on stage two, Sepp Wiegand was in fifth when he stopped on the rain-hit stage four after damaging his Fabia's right-rear suspension. He will return on day two. But there were no such troubles for Vasily Gryazin, who holds fifth overnight in his Fiesta S2000.
Bruno Magalhaes completes the top six on his international comeback following an absence of two years with Czech drivers Jaromír Tarabus and Jaroslav Orsák seventh and eighth respectively. Orsák started the final stage in front of his compatriot but lost out in the increasingly damp conditions.
South African Henk Lategan is ninth with Jean-Michel Raoux rounding out the top 10. However, Robert Consani has endured a day to forget in his Peugeot 207, which was hampered by a transmission issue in the morning. A front-right puncture on stage three and an off on stage five compounded the French driver's frustration. He's 16th overnight.
The action now switches to gravel – save for the all-asphalt Super Special Korinthos – for leg two on Sunday, with crews tackling six loose-surface tests. The first stage, the 18.19 kilometres of Klenia, gets underway at 09:08hrs local time. The finish is scheduled for 17:16hrs in Loutraki.
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