Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team man Evgeny Novikov has extended his lead on the Acropolis Rally of Greece.

Novikov seized the initiative in the dramatic opening test this evening, which saw Sebastien Ogier, Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg all hit problems.

The Russian then went quickest again in SS2, the night time run through Kineta, and will now go into the overnight halt with a 30.3 second cushion.

"I am very satisfied with today. We tried to keep a good rhythm and maintain good speed from the start and it looks like that has worked well," said Novikov. "We had no problems and no big moments. There was some dust on the first stage [SS1], not everywhere, but in some of the slow sections, and then we made a small mistake under braking on SS2 so I think that we could have gone quicker in places.

"I know this rally quite well - this is my fifth time here now - so maybe that helps a little. To be leading is a great feeling, and I hope that it continues! For tomorrow I will just try to keep this good rhythm, watch the splits and continue this good form."

Dani Sordo meanwhile is second and while the Spaniard 'only' set the fourth best time in SS2 he wasn't too concerned.

"When I saw the splits [in SS1] and the messages telling about the problems that some of the other guys were having, I decided to take it a little bit easier", Sordo explained. "Obviously, it's a very good start, but the misfortunes of some of the others show just how difficult this rally is. The main thing is that we're right up there and haven't had any major problems. Maybe I was a little too cautious on SS2, but Evgeny's lead is small on a rally like this one. I feel confident about the rest of the weekend."

Jari-Matti Latvala completes the provisional podium in his Volkswagen Polo R WRC and with his handbrake issue pretty much fixed the Finn posted the second best time in SS2, cutting the gap to P2 from 15.7 seconds to 8.8.

"We had to make do with third place today: it was a tough, eventful day and lots of teams had serious problems," Latvala said. "Qualifying didn't begin all that well for us, and starting in fourth position was far from ideal. The first stage didn't go as we would have liked either. However, following a few changes to the chassis and the differential during the first service, our Polo performed much better in the night stage and we were able to gain ground on second place. We've got a good starting position tomorrow and we'll try to put the teams in front of us under pressure. But heavy-handedness doesn't get you anywhere here in Greece - the risk of damaging the car is too high. You have to pick your fights very carefully here."

Behind, Thierry Neuville is fourth, while VW third driver, Andreas Mikkelsen and Nasser Al-Attiyah are fifth and sixth.

"The stages were a lot rougher than we expected today," Neuville noted. "We drove quite calmly at first and then when I felt more confident we went a bit faster. But I think everybody had the same problem. I don't think that my set-up was quite right for the conditions on the first stage [SS1], because I didn't have so much confidence turning into the tight hairpins.

"We damaged something on the car on that stage too [SS1] and I couldn't drive as hard as I wanted, but the mechanics fixed the car perfectly for the second stage [SS2]. The car felt much better on SS2. We hit a big rock, but luckily we have a very strong car underneath us so it was no drama."

"It was an incredibly difficult start to the Rally Greece," Mikkelsen added. "In the first stage, the car felt totally different on the loose gravel to how it had during the practices because of our starting position at the front. The road was narrow and winding. The engine stalled on us on three hairpin bends. Dust got into the cockpit, which wasn't ideal for visibility, of course. We had trouble with visibility in the dark in the second stage too and didn't feel 100 per cent comfortable. But all in all, the first day went better for us than it did for a number of top drivers. Fifth place overall is a very good result. As a consequence, we've got a better starting position for day two than we had today."

Further back, Martin Prokop, Khalid Al-Qassimi and Ostberg hold positions 7 through to 9, the latter hauling himself back into the points, after losing a wheel in the first stage and conceding over 3 minutes.

"It [the impact which broke the wheel] was just in the beginning [of SS1] going onto a concrete step. We knew it was there and I didn't feel as though there was much of an impact so it was very strange - nothing like I have ever experienced before. The nuts and the bolts were all still there, but everything else was gone - the rim and everything," Ostberg stated.

"We'll have to have a proper look at the onboard to see exactly what happened and how it happened, but obviously I am extremely disappointed. The disappointment was still with me for the second stage [SS2] and I couldn't get into the perfect rhythm.

"There is still a long way to go, but a lot will have to happen for us to get back up to where we want to be now. We'll have a fresh start tomorrow and fight as hard as we can to claim back some positions."

Robert Kubica rounds out the top ten, and despite a spin in SS2, the Pole continues to head the WRC2 class - 38.2 seconds up on Yuriy Protasov.

Of the rest, Hirvonen is a lowly 17th, after he dropped almost six minutes in SS1 with a steering problem. The Finn posted the third best time in SS2, despite nearly rolling his DS3. Runaway championship leader Ogier is also on the backfoot after having to retire in SS1 with a technical issue. He is due to re-start under the Rally 2 regulation tomorrow.

The event now continues on Saturday and day two includes two loops of four stages. SS3, the 17.41 km Klenia Mycenae 1 test, is due to start at 08.23 hours local time [06.23 hours UK time].

Acropolis Rally of Greece: Overall standings after Stage 2 (Top 10):

1. Evgeny NovikovQatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC50mins 59.3secs M
2. Dani SordoCitroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC+30.3s M
3. Jari-Matti LatvalaVolkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC+39.1s M
4. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +51.1s M
5. Andreas MikkelsenVolkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC+1m 14.6s M
6. Nasser Al-AttiyahQatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 32.9s M
7. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 34.3s M
8. Khalid Al-QassimiAbu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +3m 22.4s M
9. Mads OstbergQatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC+3m 30.1s M
10. Robert KubicaCitroen DS3 RRC+4m 17.3s WRC2


11. Yuriy ProtasovFord Fiesta RRC+4m 55.5s WRC2
17. Mikko HirvonenCitroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC+6m 04.1s M

WRC2 standings after Stage 2 (Top 3):

1. Robert KubicaCitroen DS3 RRC55mins 16.6secs WRC2
2. Yuriy ProtasovFord Fiesta RRC+38.2s WRC2
3. Abdulaziz Al-KuwariFord Fiesta RRC+55.3s WRC2

JWRC standings after Stage 2 (Top 3):

1. Jose Antonio Suarez Ford Fiesta R2 1hour 01mins 59.0secs JWRC
2. Marius Aasen Ford Fiesta R2 +52.0s JWRC
3. Pontus TidemandFord Fiesta R2+2m 34.1s JWRC

Notable retirements:

SS1. Sebastien OgierVolkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRCTechnical problem M*

*denotes due to re-start under the Rally 2 regulations

all times unofficial



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