31 May 08
Although BP-Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen set the fastest time, his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala was the biggest winner on today’s first pass through Aghii Theodori - the longest and roughest stage of the Acropolis Rally.
After losing 70 seconds on Friday’s final stage as a result of suspension damage, Latvala moved from overnight sixth to fourth thanks to a trouble-free run, setting the second-fastest time and some misfortune for the man ahead of him, Urmo Aava.
Aava dropped three minutes to the leaders - and out of the top ten - when he stopped his privately entered Citroen C4 WRC to change a puncture.
Latvala said he had followed the same strategy on the stage as last year’s Acropolis winner Marcus Gronholm. “I was very calm through the first part, and tried to do the same as Marcus,” said Latvala. “It went okay and I had no problems. I have a good feeling in the car this morning and the tyres gave me no cause for concern.”
Aava said he was disappointed to have lost time, but remained philosophical about the incident. “We had a good day yesterday but sometimes this is how it goes in this sport,” he said. "We got the puncture near the start so had no option but to stop and change it.”
Stage winner Hirvonen thought many of the leading crews were playing it safe through the first pass to gauge how hard they could push their tyres on the afternoon’s repeat.
“I did what I could but it’s not rallying, it’s more like surviving," said Hirvonen. “My own time was good but we lost so much time yesterday, I’m not sure what’s possible today, so we’ll see. Everybody was saving tyres though. Okay it was cleaning, but everybody is doing the same thing I think. It’s going to be interesting on the repeat pass.”
Petter Solberg set the third fastest time in his new Subaru Impreza WRC2008. “Yeah, it wasn’t bad at all, said Solberg, I just drove very carefully, and took no risk at all - I was afraid of punctures. It’s very important to get to the finish - so no crazy attack for me.”
Rally leader Sebastien Loeb was sixth fastest and lost half of his advantage over his Citroen team-mate, and second-placed man, Dani Sordo. Sordo will start SS9 just 8.7 sec adrift of his team-mate.