Ford driver Markko Martin picked up in Greece where he'd left off on the last round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Argentina. The Estonian retired from the South American event while leading - and he ended leg one of this week's Acropolis Rally in the same position.

Martin had been forced to give best to his team-mate Francois Duval on the opening test, however. From stage two onwards though, Martin led. Duval maintained the Ford one-two until the fifth stage of the day, when he slid off the road in his Focus. Martin's day wasn't without incident either. He was forced to drive 20 kilometres of that stage with the bonnet up on his car, following a heavy compression through a dip in the road, which forced the bonnet up. Despite extremely limited visibility, Martin was an amazing fourth quickest on the stage.

Peugeot's honour is being defended by Harri Rovanpera who is close on the Ford driver's tail at the end of today, while Marcus Gronholm was third until a fuel pump problem put him out heading to service after the final stage.

Duval retired his Ford Focus RS WRC 03 on SS5, sliding off the road eight kilometres from the finish of the test. Markko Martin's car ran reliably. Mikko Hirvonen retired his WRC 02 after breaking a wheel on the second run at the Pavliani stage.

There has been a Ford Focus RS WRC 03 at the head of the field all day today, with Duval leading after the opening test, only to give best to his team-mate Martin on the next stage. Martin maintained his advantage, despite having to drive 20 kilometres of the Elati - Zeli stage (the longest of the rally at 34km) with the bonnet up and blocking the screen. Despite this, however, he was still fourth fastest - just six seconds off the pace.

Duval was in second place when he slid off the road. Hirvonen's only problem was excessive tyre wear on SS5.

"Everything is okay," said Martin, "The bonnet coming up was a bit of a pain. I don't know why it happened. We went into quite a hard compression and then the bonnet flew up. I couldn't see very much. I had to get right down and look under the bottom of the bonnet. It was really hard to find the corners, we were off the road for some of the time, but we made it through."

"I am really disappointed with this," said Duval, "Everything was going well, I was getting into the event and not going flat out. We came to a second or third gear corner, and there was a little mix up on the note. My co-driver told me something and I thought he meant something else. We just slid off the road a little and into a ditch. The problem was there were not enough spectators to help push the car out. So that was the end."

Over at Peugeot Richard Burns' 206 WRC suffered gearbox problems on the second loop of stages today. The Englishman lost third gear on SS4 and was having trouble selecting second gear by the end of the following stage.

Rovanpera felt he had chosen the wrong tyres for the first three stages of the rally. On the right rubber for stages four and five, the Finn moved up the order and was up to second by the end of the leg.

Gronholm was left to sweep the stages clear, but managed the task well and - despite a spin on SS4 - limited the loss to hold third. Disaster struck though on the way back to service after SS8, the Finn encountering fuel pick-ups problems that forced him into retirement.

"It is very frustrating," said Gronholm, "We know there is fuel in the tank, but we cannot get it to the engine. We have tried everything, but there's nothing we can do."

Burns' transmission trouble dropped him down the order, but he fought back over the final trio of stages to hold an overnight ninth place. "On stages where you're not in first gear or fifth gear very often, losing third is a big handicap," said Burns, "There is quite a big gap between second and fourth, so I was having to rev the car very hard and then grab fourth. Coming down the box later in the next stage, I noticed the car wasn't selecting second too easily."

Rovanpera concluded: "Running further back on the road has been good today, certainly the road has been swept for us, but at the same time there have been some big rocks uncovered as well. Apart from my tyre choice this morning, I'm happy with the way the day has gone."

Both Subaru Impreza WRC 2003s ran without fault and the Subaru team was happy with the performance of the drivers, feeling that Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg are ideally placed for an attack on tomorrow's stages. Both drivers had stalled their cars under braking, but that aside there were no major problems throughout this opening leg.

"The first time we stalled, we dropped about 20 seconds (on SS1) and then the second time we did it (in SS4) we lost about 15 seconds," said Solberg, "It's quite hard to get one of these hot engines fired up again when they stall. Apart from that, I'm happy. We were planning to be around fifth at the end of today and we are a little bit ahead of the plan already."

"I think we have to make some changes to the set-up of the car, it feels a little bit lazy when I'm turning into corners," noted Makinen, "We will make some alterations to the differentials and the suspension. We had new dampers for the last rally in Argentina - maybe we still don't know enough about them."

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb retired on the opening stage of the day when his Xsara WRC succumbed to an engine problem. Colin McRae dropped 50 seconds of road penalties when his car wouldn't start prior to the second stage of the day. Carlos Sainz's Xsara WRC ran without mechanical fault through the opening leg.

Sainz led the Citroen attack at the end of the day, but on the stages, it was McRae who had been fastest. The Scot's charge was blunted by the addition of 50 seconds to his total time - after the car wouldn't start going into the second stage. He was in the top three stage times on four of the morning's five stages, only to drop a little time over the final loop. Sainz stiffened his car for the second loop of stages, but felt it was too hard and came back towards the original settings for the final lap. The Spaniard's decision was clearly the right one as he turned a 4.6-second deficit to Makinen into a 0.3-second advantage over the Finn, to claim an overnight fourth.

"I wasn't so comfortable with the car this morning, but things have got better," said Sainz, "On the first loop of stages there was still quite a lot of gravel around on the roads, there wasn't much of a line being swept clean. Now I am reasonably happy, we're not so far off so that can't be bad."

McRae, who ended the day seventh, added: "There's no point thinking about what we could have done without this 50-second penalty. It's there and we have to deal with it. We have managed to claw some of the time back and it's still possible that we can get a very good result at the end of the event."

The Hyundai team meanwhile had a truly dismal day. Armin Schwarz retired on SS1 with a broken cam belt on his Accent WRC. Freddy Loix suffered a fire on the same stage after a pipe from the shock absorber broke spraying oil onto the turbo. The Belgian withdrew at the start of the third stage unable to fix his suspension trouble.

Jussi Valimaki's WRC3 was reliable for leg one of the event and was the sole remaining official Accent in 12th at the end the day.

Schwarz said: "It is so frustrating to go out of this rally so early, especially when we knew what the car could do on these type of stages. We haven't had the chance to prove ourselves at all here. The problem came 12.5 kilometres into SS1. The engine went sick and that was the end. It looks like trouble with the cam belt."

Vallmaki added: "I remembered the fourth stage quite well and our time was good in there. On the next stage we hit a bump very hard and knocked the steering a little out of line. It was a very heavy impact, I thought we must have broken something in the steering."

Skoda's Didier Auriol's Octavia WRC ran reliably, while Toni Gardemeister retired after the fifth stage with no all pressure.

Auriol was happy with the way his car ran through the day, but felt he had been a little conservative with his tyres through SS4, saving them for the long stage which followed. He brought the sole remaining Octavia home in eighth place.

Gardemeister wasn't happy with the handling on his car through the morning stages, but felt much better on the second loop - only for the engine to give trouble. He got out of SS5 but parked up 12 kms outside of service.

Auriol said: "The road has been clean, but some big, big rocks pulled out - you don't know whether to go left or right around them when you arrive at speed. I thought we had a steering problem on SS5, but it was nothing. I shouldn't have taken it so easy on the fourth stage, we've been through SS5 and they're still okay."

Garderneister added: "The turbo blew on the car about eight kilometres from the finish and then I noticed the oil pressure dropping. On the stage before, we had broken a shock absorber, but it was the oil pressure which finished it for us."

Of the other entries Brice Tirabassi leads the FIA Junior World Rally Championship standings in his Renault Clio. The Frenchman has led the event all day, despite suffering a long brake pedal on the day's earlier stages. VW man Kosti Katajamaki held second early on, only to drop behind Daniel Carlsson (Suzuki) later in the leg.

Gilles Panizzi is the leading non-works driver in the overall stakes, holding sixth place in his Bozian-run, works-specification 206 WRC. Panizzi's Bozian team-mate Roman Kresta was fined $1,000 for breach of gravel car regulations, he is just outside the top ten.

Rally statistics - Leg 1:

Starters: 78 crews (31 Group A and 47 Group N) started this morning.

Retirements: Duval (O), Hirvonen (FIN), Schwarz (a). Loix (B), Gardemeister (FIN), Loeb (F). Pykalisto (FIN) and 16 other drivers.

Today - Friday 13 June: Leg 1 started from Lamia at 07h00 and covered 498.14km, including 145.66km on eight stages. The first car arrived back in Lamia at 19h38.

Tomorrow - Saturday 7 June: Leg 2 starts from Lamia at 06h00 and covers 609.67km, including 148.63km on eight stages. The first car is expected to arrive back in Lamia at 19h55.

Weather forecast: Will remain dry and sunny.