24 June 2005
Loeb seizes Acropolis lead.
Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb leads the Acropolis Rally this evening following the conclusion of the opening leg.
The Frenchman stormed through the final test of the day and turned a 9.1 second deficit to Marcus Gronholm, who led after SS6, into a 6.1 second lead following SS7, the longest of the event, the Elatia-Zeli test [32.55 km].
Loeb now looks well placed ahead of the rest of the event and will be gunning for his fifth successive victory, following wins in New Zealand, Sardinia, Cyprus and Turkey. The reigning world champion was especially impressive as he was at a disadvantage early on running first on the road.
"There have been rallies where the handicap of running first on the road has been lessened by damp conditions. But that can't happen everywhere, so it's only normal that I should the pay the price of being first on the road in dry weather from time to time," he said. "I can tell you I was especially pampered today, especially first time through Rengini!
"I didn't feel 100 per cent comfortable. I was unsure of both my set-up and my driving, but at the end of the day I think this was probably due to the stages themselves as much as anything. Happily, the end of Elatia-Zeli was clean and I was able to push hard, both times through. The first time so as not to lose too much ground and the second time through to take the lead."
Gronholm meanwhile is 'best of the rest' - the Finn having posted two quickest stages time today in his 307 WRC and will surely push tomorrow to try and put himself back on top.
"At the end of the day I am happy as I am only six seconds behind Sebastien Loeb," said Gronholm. "I think tomorrow's stages will suit us better: these stages are the most difficult of the rally. The surfaces are very damaging, and our tyres should work well in these conditions. I'm going to attack!"
Carlos Sainz is third in the second Xsara, the Spaniard again showing he can still deliver, despite a seven month lay-off. Sainz, who returned in Turkey earlier this month, to replace Francois Duval, even won SS6 to show there is still plenty of life left in the WRC's elder statesmen.
"I obviously benefited from a cleaner surface today," admitted Sainz. "I tried to keep it very clean, taking extra care through the rougher portions. The balance of my Xsara suits me perfectly. It is more to my liking, more precise than in Turkey. I feel very confident."
Toni Gardemeister is next up for Ford, ahead of fellow Focus runner, Mikko Hirvonen. The latter had led going into the mid-day service but transmission problems in SS5, which left him without first, second and third gears, cost him valuable time and he is now 48.8 seconds off the leader.
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