Stage data: SS1, Kineta (25.24 kilometres)
By M-Sport Ford Rally Team co-driver Denis Giraudet: “Luckily the stage will run in the daylight after the problems with the dust last year when we had the stage at night. But even in the daylight it’s quite challenging. It’s surprisingly very fast. For half of the stage you feel you are more like in Finland or the Australian forests around Perth with a lot of trees next to the road. Then we have Tarmac for two kilometres but difficult Tarmac because it’s slippery. Then we have a really twisty section to the finish so you really have to be awake for this stage because it’s not so easy.”
How the action unfolded:
Jari-Matti Latvala has made a sensational return to the FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia after going fastest on stage one of the Acropolis Rally, the 25.24-kilometre Kineta test.
The factory Ford driver, who missed the last round in Argentina through injury, edged world champion Sebastien Loeb by 2.8s with Mikko Hirvonen third quickest and Mads Ostberg fourth fastest. “I was very equal with Loeb but at the end I seemed to pull out some time at the hairpins,” said Latvala. “I felt really fast in places.”
Loeb said: “In some places there is a lot of grip, some places no grip so it is difficult to understand where you can push and where you have to be careful.”
It was a frustrating start to the Greek round for former winner Petter Solberg who blamed his failure to win the stage on his decision to run soft compound tyres on his factory Fiesta rather than the hard option chosen by his rivals. The Norwegian’s tyres had lost considerable grip by the end of the run, which he completed with the fifth fastest time, 14.6s slower than Latvala.
“It was my decision and I believed in it,” said Solberg. “I thought it could have been colder, it was just a mistake and I should have listened to the team. Okay that’s how it is and we learn from that. We are not out of it.”
Evgeny Novikov said he wasn’t entirely happy with his driving in his M-Sport Fiesta after the Russian admitted to making a few mistakes on his run to the sixth best time.
Ott Tanak, who damaged his Fiesta’s front-right steering arm hitting a small tree during the Qualifying Stage this morning, spun near the stage start but still managed the seventh fastest run.
Martin Prokop, who was eighth fastest, reported a problem with his Fiesta’s power shift before the stage got underway but conceded it didn’t affect him during the test. Nasser Al-Attiyah and Daniel Oliveira both admitted to struggling on the loose stage surface.
Thierry Neuville said he wasn’t happy with his car set-up, pace notes or level of confidence after completing the stage with the ninth fastest time. The Belgian driver said the stage was also rougher than he expected.
Armindo Araujo enjoyed a clean run in his WRC Team MINI Portugal but said running second on the road meant he struggled for grip at times. Team-mate Paulo Nobre’s car ingested significant amounts of dust after a rear door opened during the stage. The Brazilian, running at the head of the field, admitted he struggled to breathe as a result.