Fri 08 Sep 2023

Neuville lays down early marker to lead Acropolis on Friday morning

Thierry Neuville was the fastest out of the blocks on Friday morning to lead EKO Acropolis Rally Greece after the opening pair of gravel road tests.

After Thursday’s shakedown was cancelled due to severe weather conditions, the FIA World Rally Championship’s stars found themselves entering the unknown on two quickfire blasts which formed part of their journey north from Thursday’s super special in Athens to the rally base in Lamia.

Neuville, driving a Hyundai i20 N, stormed ahead of overnight leader Kalle Rovanperä by going 3.4sec faster than anybody else on the drying roads of Loutraki. But on rougher terrain in Pissia, it was Rovanperä’s GR Yaris which had the edge.

Just 2.0sec split the pair as they headed for the remote tyre fitting zone at Casino Loutraki, the advantage in Neuville’s favour.

“We need to work a bit on the car,” said the Belgian. “Without shakedown there's a few small adjustments to do. I was crashing through a lot [in Pissia] and I had to take it steady in some of the compressions.”

Sébastien Ogier made it two Toyotas inside the top three and trailed his team-mate by 2.6sec. The Frenchman, competing for the first time since June, admitted he had been approaching some of the muddier sections with extra caution.

Ott Tänak was 3.7sec behind in fourth, but clearly frustrated by the feeling aboard his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1: “It's just a massive fight in the car. No way it's driving like it should,” he revealed after SS3.

Tänak wasn’t the only driver experiencing issues with his Puma. Pierre-Louis Loubet retired with technical trouble shortly after leaving parc fermé while Jourdan Serderidis, driving a similar car, also reported an engine fault.

A strong Greek showing is vital for Elfyn Evans if the Welshman is to keep the pressure on his championship-leading team-mate Rovanperä. The Welshman made a steady start, however, and languished in 12.5sec back from the top spot in fifth.

Hyundai pair Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo were sixth and seventh respectively while Takamoto Katsuta completed the loop in eighth, despite his GR Yaris being sent bucking into the air by a brutal compression.

Adrien Fourmaux led WRC2 whilst also sitting ninth overall in his M-Sport-run Fiesta Rally2. Nikolay Gryazin completed the top 10.

Loutraki is repeated early this afternoon before stages further north in Livadia and Elatia precede the overnight halt in Lamia.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM