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McRae leads as Acropolis claims Mitsubishi.

Colin McRae headed the field as the Acropolis Rally showed exactly why it has a reputation as the toughest event on the calendar.

The Scot trailed only for the opening stage at Skourta, before using consecutive fastest times to climb above early leader Marcus Gronholm and stamp his authority on the day one of the three day event. The Scot benefited from running at number five, with most of the road debris cleared away by those starting ahead of him, and knows that he could drop back tomorrow.

Despite his seemingly strong lead, McRae suffered a handful of minor problems en route to claiming three of the day's five special stages. Run-flat inserts in his tyres allowed the Ford driver to get his Focus WRC to the end of each affected run without too much time being lost, and the Scot acknowledged that he had been luckier than most.

''The day went perfectly,'' he smiled, ''We had a couple of punctures, but that is inevitable with so many big rocks on the road, and we lost no time. I'm trying to drive quickly where I can but, on the roughest sections, I'm just aiming to pick my way around the rocks.

''I've never known such a dramatic opening day on this event. You always expect things to happen, but it seems that everyone apart from Carlos [Sainz] and I was in the wars. I wanted a good clear run, and that's what I got.''

Second at the end of the day fell to Ford team-mate Sainz, who also seemed to enjoy a relatively trouble-free day. The Spaniard has yet to claim a stage win, but has quietly picked up top five places on every run to lie just over half a minute behind McRae.

Peugeot's Francois Delecour held a surprise third place as the cars arrived at the overnight halt in Itea. The Frenchman was well down the order after the opening stage but, like Sainz, has put in consistent results since then to climb above both Subarus, and team-mate Gronholm, by the end of the day. He put the margin between him and the leader down to having been hampered by driving through the dust thrown up by Toni Gardemeister's SEAT for much of the day.

Subaru twins Juha Kankkunen and Richard Burns lie fourth and fifth respectively, both having been caused problems by running early on each stage. Kankkunen admitted to having been careful for most of the day, and took the opportunity to run different tyre compounds to his team-mate as research for future stages. Championship leader Burns was first on the road, and also suffered problems with a broken front shock absorber which cost him further time.

''I can't do anything about today, but I'm relatively happy where I am,'' he said, ''The heat is the biggest problem, and there's no doubt that its affecting my reactions.''



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