Kalle Rovanpera holds the narrowest of Acropolis Rally leads after an incident-packed day one of the World Rally Championship’s return to Greece.
After 55.55 miles of rough gravel and changing conditions following heavy pre-event rain, Toyota’s 20-year-old Finnish phenom takes a 3.7sec lead over Hyundai’s Ott Tanak into day two. Rovanpera’s teammate, Sebastien Ogier, is only 0.2sec back in third, despite running first on the road and playing “road sweeper” in his Yaris WRC.
Rovanpera was fastest on two of the day’s five special stages, but knows he’ll need to find another level on day two’s six stages and 82.4 competitive miles to keep 2019 WRC champion Tanak and seven-time and reigning champ Ogier behind.
“The feeling today is quite OK,” said Rovanpera, who took his first WRC win on July’s Rally Estonia. “Let’s see what we can do tomorrow — I think we’ll need to step it up a bit.”
Tanak posted fastest time on the day’s first and last stages, despite not being fully comfortable with his Hyundai i20’s handling.
“Today we struggle,” said the Estonian. “We tried really hard, but had no real feeling from the car. It’s difficult, but of course we’ll keep pushing.”
With the stages dry and dusty in places, but still very damp in others, Ogier complained of inconsistent grip, yet was still able to post fastest time on the day’s longest stage, the 14.45-mile Thiva test. As first car on the stages, the Frenchman’s Yaris was basically a gravel clearer for the cars behind, making his competitive showing all the more impressive.
“I think I can be really happy with this day,” he said. “If the stages had stayed muddy, it would have been good to be first car, but unfortunately it dried out too much. Anyway, we stayed out of trouble, and this was the best I could do.”
Ogier came to Greece with a 38-point lead over his Toyota teammate, Elfyn Evans, and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville in the WRC title battle, with only four rallies remaining. Acropolis was a chance for Ogier’s chasers to claw back some of the deficit, but day one dramas for both Evans and Neuville have put a stopper on that.
Evans has lost almost five minutes to the rally leaders after suffering gearbox problems in his Yaris WRC, while power-steering issues on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 have left him nearly seven minutes in arrears, the pair starting day two in 16th and 19th, respectively.
“We tried everything we could,” said a disconsolate Evans, who was forced to run the final three stages jammed in third gear. “We’ll get back to service, we’ll get it sorted, and we’ll just get ready for tomorrow.”
Added Neuville: “We had a s••• day. Nothing worked. But I’m proud of my job to fix the car.”
Adding to the drama, Hyundai junior Pierre-Louis Loubet suffered steering failure just yards from the finish of the day’s final stage. The Frenchman went off the side of the road and was pushed back on by spectators, but with the ailing i20 partly blocking the road, the stage was temporarily red flagged.
In WRC2, Marco Bulacia leads the way, ahead of TOKSPORT Skoda teammate and championship leader Andreas Mikkelsen.
Mikkelsen’s closest challenger in the points battle, Mads Ostberg, was forced to retire his Citroen C3 with a broken driveshaft, while Hyundai rising star Oliver Solberg added to the attrition with a suspension-related DNF.
American duo Sean Johnston and Alex Kihurani lie 17th overall, and 10th of the WRC2 entries, in their Citroen C3.
Top 10 after day one/Special Stage 6:
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1h01m57.1s
2 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +3.7s
3 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3.9s
4 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +23.9s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC) +54.2s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m23.3s
7 Marco Bulacia/Marcelo der Ohannesian (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +2m40.9s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +2m46.3s
9 Chris Ingram/Ross Whittock (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +2m52.7s
10 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +3m03.1s
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