Acropolis : Subaru / PCWRC - Leg 1
The first day of the Acropolis Rally has lived up to its name as a car killer, but Subaru is showing strongly with two cars in the top three, namely second and third.
The rally took its competitive start in Athens' Olympic Stadium
on Thursday evening, crews tackling the Superspecial spectator stage inside the huge arena in front of over 65,000 enthralled rally fans. After the 2.79-kilometre figure eight test had been ploughed through, the top Subaru runner was Jari Matti Latvala in second place.
His nearest Impreza challenger was defending PCWRC champion Toshi Arai in fourth. The Japanese ace was followed by a brace of five more Subaru entrants; Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, newcomer Takuma Kamada, Russian Sergei Uspenskiy, Poland's Leszek Kuzaj, and Aki Teiskonen.
The first four stages of the event saw four different winners: Baldacci on the Superspecial, Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah on stage 2 (the first test of the morning), Gabriele Pozzo on SS3, and Aki Teiskonen on SS4. The shuffling of positions early on in the event really shows the level of competition in the PCWRC.
Leg one's first stage was the Imittos 1 test (SS2), at 11.43 kilometres. Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah comfortably took the stage win by 6.5 seconds over Gabriele Pozzo, while new boy Takuma Kamada's blistering pace on the test moved him into second place overall.
SS3 was rather longer, the Skourta 1 stage covering 23.79 kms.
Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah maintained his position at the head of the field, while Kamada's pace was cut drastically as he got stuck behind a slower competitor. Meanwhile, Aki Teiskonen was able to make up two positions – from 6th to 4th, while Sergei Uspenskiy also gained a position, moving into sixth. Toshi Arai, with gear lever problems, still managed to go from 9th to seventh on the stage.
The final stage before the Lunchtime Service was SS4, Thiva 1, at 23.76 kms. It was Aki Tesikonen's first stage win and propelled the Finn into the overall lead in the PCWRC. He was followed by Nasser Al Attiyah; with Jari Matti Latvala in fourth and Toshi Arai now in sixth.
Leszek Kuzaj retired on SS4 after damaging his steering on SS3. He will not start under SupeRally tomorrow. Nasser had a trouble-free morning, although he overshot a junction on SS4, the final stage of the morning.
Toshi Arai had a morning to forget as he broke his gear shift 5 kilometres into SS2. He then drove the remainder of the stage and SS3 with half a gear shift. It finally broke for good during SS4, and he had to drive the rest of the stage in third gear.
“Other than the gear shift, there're no problems. We're making sure the car is not taking any impacts and are quite happy as we feel we're in a recovery situation. The stages are very, very dusty – and as rough as we expected.”
“I'm taking a careful approach to these first stages, and the suspension is working extremely well. The '06 Impreza is feeling very much better balanced than the '05 car and I believe it's down to the new transmission.”
Jari Matti Latvala
“The car was great, but with the steering becoming loose, I was just a little nervous throughout SS2 and SS3. I repaired it before SS4 and it didn't happen again so we're running well and feeling good now.”
“The car is good. I'm happy with my competitiveness. I, like my fellow competitors, am treating the stages with respect. Over the rest of the day and the next two legs I'm hoping to maintain and improve my position over the course of the weekend. I'm trying hard to stay clear of trouble.”
Unfortunately for the Russian driver, a broken top mount on the last stage of the day, puts him onto SupeRally tomorrow.
Takuma Kamada set most impressive times early on in the morning, particularly on SS2 where he was ranked as high as second overall in PCWRC. He then fell foul of a slower competitor in front, losing over 50 seconds on SS3 as he followed in the other driver's dust for over 12 kilometres at ‘road speed'.
To avoid the dust problem recurring on the next stage, Kamada took a road penalty going into SS4, but he still ended up in the same competitor's dust in that test.
“I'm very, very happy to be here. We're not taking any hits on the car, focusing on running carefully as we know how damaging this event can be. The suspension is also excellent – and that is fundamentally important here.”
Nigel Heath hit problems on SS4, filling his air filter with dust and earth - this after his disastrous start last night when he damaged the car on the Superspecial. However, after a brief stop to empty the filter of debris, they were on their way again.
At the Lunchtime Service, there was ‘nothing in it' between the top nine cars (less than a minute gap) so the rally could have gone any way in terms of who would emerge top at the end of the day.
The afternoon was a repeat of the morning's three stages, and was the scene of many dramas for the Impreza runners.
Takuma Kamada had three punctures and retired on the road section between SS6 and SS7, a very unfortunate end to his first day on his debut event in PCWRC after demonstrating a great performance early on. We also lost Toshi Arai, who broke a steering arm on SS6. The damage occurred on a very narrow slow-speed hairpin and Toshi is at a loss to how he managed to break this part. However, he will re-start under SupeRally tomorrow and in the tough conditions, we can expect him to get well back into the points if he has a trouble-free leg two and three.
Jari Matti Latvala had a puncture on SS6, losing some three minutes in the tyre change.
George Donaldson, STI Group N Project General Manager
“It's been an incredible day's sport, and at the end of leg one Nasser and Aki are fighting for the PCWRC lead - with Jari Matti waiting in the wings. Of course Takuma Kamada, Toshi Arai and Sergei Uspenskiy will all re-emerge under SupeRally tomorrow. And Nigel Heath is still very much in the competition.
“Tomorrow, the conditions are going to be even tougher than today. It's going to be a case of taking care and judging the pace carefully. Many drivers quite clearly have learned the hard lessons of Argentina six weeks ago. On leg two, we hope to see Jari Matti Latvala, who lost three minutes with a puncture this afternoon, managing to come back up into the very top. He's got a good chance to do that we believe. Nasser and Aki, we hope, are going to consolidate their positions.
“Toshi Arai, Takuma Kamada, Leszek and Sergei all fell foul of the tough conditions here on a very hard Acropolis Rally. It just seems there are invisible rocks in the road in this country – very hard to see obstacles littering the stages – that ultimately trip the cars up. There's everything to play for tomorrow for Nasser and Aki. Hopefully we'll see Kamada, Toshi and Sergei pulling themselves back into the points.”
Leg two promises the roughest stages of the entire weekend, so the excitement can only get more intense as the crews head into the second day of competition. The leg is comprised of two three-stage loops, (the same format as Leg one) though this time the number of competitive kilometres will be higher, with a total of 134.66 kms. Weather is also expected to be more of the same; hot, dry conditions, with temperatures hovering around the 30-32 degree mark.
Press release Subaru