BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm has utterly dominated the opening leg of the Acropolis Rally, the eighth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, ending the first leg nearly 30 seconds up on his nearest rival.
The Acropolis Rally began on Thursday night with the first of two runs through the Olympic Stadium Super Special and although Sebastien Loeb took the win there, the action didn't start 'proper' until Friday, with three tests, each repeated twice, run on the rocky gravel tracks in the hills near Athens. Gronholm began things on Friday by winning SS2, a feat he repeated in SS3 and SS4, to head into the mid-day service 13.9 seconds up on Petter Solberg.
On the repeat runs through Imittos, Skourta and Thiva [run as SS5, SS6 and SS7], the Ford ace was again unstoppable and three more wins saw him complete a clean sweep as well as doubling his advantage heading into the overnight halt.
"That's not a bad performance," said Gronholm following the final test. "The only problem was the stones that caused vibrations to the power steering. Otherwise we had no problem. The car is perfect. I have to concentrate now on keeping this position until Sunday."
Solberg meanwhile heads the chasing pack, although like most of the runners, the Norwegian was dogged by tyre problems and he suffered three punctures this morning. 'Hollywood' was second quickest through every test today, bar SS7, and although he was somewhat disappointed not to be closer to Gronholm, he was pleased to be back at the front of the pack and at least in contention for the victory, something that hasn't been the norm to date this year.
Loeb is next up, 9.2 seconds further adrift in his Kronos Racing run Xsara. The Frenchman had no real problems other than the fact he was running first on the road and therefore had to contend with lots of loose gravel, something he felt didn't exactly help his cause.
"I can't do anything else. I am pushing hard and I think that I am driving fast," he reflected. "Entering the stages first, is not helpful."
Further-down the pack, Mikko Hirvonen lies over a minute off the lead in the second BP Ford Focus, the Finn unable to match the times of the top three, while Francois Duval is fifth, in his First Motorsport run Fabia WRC. The Belgian set top ten stages times in every test and was even third in SS4.
"I am very happy for the team. I hope to continue at the same rhythm tomorrow," said the former Citroen and Ford 'works' driver.