The sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship - the Acropolis Rally - got off to a dramatic start this evening and a number of leading crews have already fallen victim to the punishing conditions. After the opening two stages and 73.75 competitive kilometres, Evgeny Novikov is the surprise overnight leader and already has 30.3 seconds in hand to second-placed Dani Sordo. Jari-Matti Latvala is third, a further nine seconds adrift.
The rally got underway this afternoon in Athens and the crews immediately headed to the opening two stages, the first a punishing 47.70 kilometre stage and the second, a shorter 26.05 kilometre test but run in complete darkness. Renowned for being one of the toughest events on the calendar, the first stage took its toll as Sébastien Ogier, Mads Østberg and Mikko Hirvonen all hit problems. Championship leader Ogier sustained a puncture and was then forced to stop with a fuel related problem; he will however re-start under Rally 2 regulations on Saturday. Hirvonen dropped nearly six minutes with loose steering and after Østberg clipped a kerb, the Norwegian lost a wheel and over three minutes.
Novikov has been the pace-setter, the Russian fastest in the opening stage by 20.6 seconds and he also claimed victory in the night stage to pull out a useful advantage ahead of a long day of competition on Saturday. Sordo and Latvala too have remained unscathed and Thierry Neuville holds fourth overnight, the only other driver now under a minute adrift of the lead. Andreas Mikkelsen, in fifth, stalled three times in the first stage but sits ahead of Nasser Al-Attiyah, who reported a potential differential problem.
Saturday is by far the longest day of the rally and covers eight stages and 149.56 competitive kilometres.