Latvala takes early Acropolis lead

Autosport

Jari-Matti Latvala made the best possible start to his return to the World Rally Championship by taking the early lead of the Acropolis Rally.

The Ford driver had missed the last round in Argentina after breaking his collarbone in a skiing accident.

Rather than starting with a superspecial, this year's Acropolis features a solitary full-length stage - the 25 kilometres of Kineta - on Thursday afternoon before the crews head for the overnight break.

Ford had been quicker than Citroen on the morning's qualifying stage, and Latvala maintained that form to beat Sebastien Loeb to the fastest SS1 time by 2.8 seconds.

"It's a good start," said Latvala. "I think I made the time on Loeb at hairpins towards the end of the stage. I am happy to be back in the car now - this is the most important thing."

The second Citroen of Mikko Hirvonen was third, 7.1s off the lead.

While one works Ford led the way, the second factory car of Petter Solberg lost 14.6s and ended up in fifth, just behind Mads Ostberg's Adapta Ford. Unlike all the other frontrunners, Solberg took soft rather than hard tyres - and found himself very short of rubber by the finish.

"I should have listened to the team," said the Norwegian. "I thought the surface was going to be sandier than it was."

Evgeny Novikov (M-Sport Ford) was only a few seconds off Solberg in sixth, with his team-mate Ott Tanak heading Martin Prokop (Czech Ford) and Thierry Neuville (Citroen Junior) in a very close battle for seventh.

Solberg's countryman Andreas Mikkelsen also suffered in the stage - his Skoda Fabia S2000 developed a transmission problem which left the car in rear-wheel drive or the latter part of the test.

The crews now return to service in Loutraki before starting day one proper at 0600 on Friday morning. Friday will bring eight stages and 100 competitive miles in a 15-hour day.

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