Acropolis - Ford World Rally Team - After SS3
The Ford World Rally Team made a perfect start to the Acropolis Rally of Greece this morning to lead this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship after the opening loop of speed tests.
Jari-Matti Latvala and
Miikka Anttila, winners of the previous round in Italy last month, led by 7.8sec in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car with team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen third in another Focus RS WRC, 9.3sec behind their colleagues.
Following last night's start ceremony high above the spectacular Corinth Canal near the rally base in the holiday resort of Loutraki, competition began in earnest this morning. Cars left the town for five demanding gravel speed tests covering 140.40km in blistering temperatures. The route initially headed north around the Gulf of Corinth towards a brief 15-minute service in Itea.
Latvala took full advantage of a perfect start position to post fastest time over the opening 25.00km Harvati special stage, 5.8km ahead of Hirvonen. The 24-year-old Finn was then second through the 23.76km Thiva, 3.5sec ahead of Hirvonen.
The 21.03km Evangelistria test was cancelled before the rally so drivers headed directly to Itea for their only service opportunity during the day.
"I enjoyed a strong, clean run this morning," said Latvala. "Road position certainly helped me on the first stage, which had a lot of slippery gravel on the surface, but not as much on the second test which wasn't as loose.
I could have pushed more but it wasn't necessary. There was a lot of dust in the first stage and I also had to ease off when a pin holding the bonnet came loose. I could see the bonnet lifting on faster sections and I was worried that it would break off."
Like Latvala, Hirvonen found the opening stages smoother than usual for the Acropolis Rally.
"The roads weren't rough, but the stones were sharp and I had to be careful for the tyres. It was a good start but there are many very difficult stages to come. I will drive flat out this afternoon and look at the situation before the final stage to see if tactics will come into play," said 28-year-old Hirvonen.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr are 12th in another Focus RS WRC.
"I found a good pace and balance this morning. The roads are sandy in places, but also rocky in sections and that's due to my start position. However, it's better where I am than at the top of the order," said Al Qassimi.