Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg has moved up to fifth place overall at the Acropolis Rally of Greece after the first dayís stages, overcoming a difficult start to occupy an excellent road position going into day two. But Matthew Wilson suffered disappointment on day one as an oil pressure problem forced his retirement on just the second stage.

The class WRC event kicked off on Thursday with a ceremonial start on the historic Corinth Canal near rally HQ in Loutraki. The real action got underway this morning as the 47 rally entrants headed north of Service Park for a shortened five-stage programme. The 21.03km third stage, Evangelistria, had been cancelled before the start of the rally leaving just two stages for the drivers to take on before the challenging remote service in Itea.

With the thermometer tipping 40 degrees around the Gulf of Corinth the drivers were subjected to extreme heat as well as tricky road conditions as the rally took in some of the classic Acropolis Rally stages on day one. Road conditions were slippery and early in the day the dust was hanging in the air causing visibility issues even for those crews starting further down the field.

Solberg had a difficult start to the rally as he suffered from brake fade problems on the 25km SS1 Harvati, losing valuable seconds, which dropped him down outside the top ten overall and more than 30 seconds behind the leaders. The Norwegian and co-driver Cato Menkerud produced a better performance on the second stage, moving up the eighth, but Solberg was not happy with the set-up of his car.

Meanwhile, disaster struck for Stobart team-mate Matthew Wilson whose Ford Focus RS suffered a loss of oil pressure on SS2 Thiva and Wilson was forced to retire from day one to avoid damaging the engine.

With only a remote service on day one the opportunity to make changes to the cars midway through the day was limited and Solberg continued to struggle to find his rhythm on the afternoon stages. Despite these problems he maintained his place in the top ten, posting consistent times, and as other drivers succumbed to the rough conditions he moved up to fifth and will have a good road position for tomorrowís dusty stages.

Wilsonís car has been fixed by the Stobart mechanics and he will rejoin the event under SupeRally conditions tomorrow with the aim of chasing manufacturer points for the team.

Day two will take the crews to the south of Loutraki where they will tackle two passes of a three-stage loop. After day oneís classic Acropolis Rally stages like Bauxites, day two is made up three entirely new stages giving the drivers an extra challenge.

The 185.86kms of winding stages are expected to be dusty putting the early starters at a disadvantage as they sweep the road. Tyre wear is again expected to be an issue, especially on the second pass of the stages, as the heat combined with the hard bedrock road base tests the Pirelli Scorpion tyres to the limit.

News from other teams

BP Ford Abu Dhabiís Mikko Hirvonen will start day two in the lead after a strong day one performance.
World Champion Sebastien Loeb was outshone by team-mate Dani Sordo on the opening stages with the Spaniard lying in second place ahead of Loeb in third.

It was a day for the young drivers to shine as Citroen Juniorís Evgeny Novikov and Sebastien Ogier both took stage wins while Petter Solberg suffered some mechanical problems in the morning but overcame those to finish the day in fourth place.

Meanwhile Munchiís Ford driver Federico Villagra had a trouble-free day and is in contention for another strong points finish lying in seventh place overall.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg said:
ďIíve just been driving today. I donít have a wonderful feeling with the car and there was no chance to make any changes as there was no main service today so we were limited in what we could do. My times have not been great and itís not been my best day. Tomorrow will be better and weíve got a good road position. The stages tomorrow are more difficult so I want to stay out of trouble, avoid any problems and improve on my position overall.Ē

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford driver Matthew Wilson said:
ďItís very disappointing to have to retire on only the second stage. We had a good recce and shakedown and felt really up for the challenge that this rally throws at us so itís unfortunate to be out so early. The first stage was difficult but it felt really good. Itís good news that weíre able to restart tomorrow. It will be useful to get experience of the stages for future years. There isnít much we can do about our position but you never know, we could still score some manufacturer points.Ē

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson said:
ďHenning has been very clever today. He possibly hasnít been completely happy with the set-up of the car but heís in a very strong position going into the most difficult day of the event tomorrow. It hasnít been the best of starts for Matthew who was hit by an uncharacteristic mechanical problem. But I am confident that it will be fixed and we will get him going again. It is important for him to get experience of the stages tomorrow.Ē

Leaderboard at end of day one
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen(FIN) Ford Focus RS 1h27m11.3s
2. D Sordo/M Marti (ESP) CitroŽn C4 +3.0s
3. S Loeb/D Elena (FRA) CitroŽn C4 +21.1s
4. P Solberg/P Mills (NOR) CitroŽn Xsara +41.8s
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud (NOR) Ford Focus RS +1m17.7s
6. S Ogier/J Ingrassia (FRA) CitroŽn C4 +1m17.8s
7. F Villagra/J Diaz (ARG Ford Focus RS +2m04.1s
8. K Al Qassimi/M Orr (UAE) Ford Focus RS +2m15.0s
9. C Rautenbach/D Barrit (ZIM) CitroŽn C4 +2m16.5s
10. M Ostberg/J Andersson (NOR) Subaru Impreza +2m41.0s
32. M Wilson/S Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS +19m58.4s

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