WRC – Neuville takes Acropolis lead as Loeb retires
Thierry Neuville is the new leader of EKO Acropolis Rally Greece, round 10 of the FIA World Rally Championship, after a drama-filled Saturday morning when all drivers in the top 10 changed positions.
Neuville, driving a Hyundai i20 N Rally1, started leg two 16.0s adrift of overnight leader Sébastien Loeb in fourth overall but climbed two positions to take the runner-up spot with a storming run through the day-opening 33.2-kilometre Pyrgos test.
Loeb crossed the flying finish of the opener with an extended advantage of 19.0s but his challenge ended almost there and then after the alternator belt on his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 failed on the approach to the stop line.
Despite extensive efforts by Loeb and co-driver Isabelle Galmiche to replace the broken belt, they ran out of time and retired for the day – leaving Neuville out front as the leaderboard turned on its head.
Also in trouble was Pierre-Louis Loubet, who brought up the rear of M-Sport Ford’s 1-2 on Friday evening. A damaged tyre on the Tarzan stage cost the Corsican more than one-minute and he plummeted down the order to seventh.
Neuville’s dominant stage win on Tarzan consolidated his position and he arrived back to service in Lamia 31.0s clear of the field.
“I am surprised,” Neuville admitted. “We had a good clean run this morning and I think the tyre choice was good as well, but I struggled a bit with the balance at the rear and I had to adapt a bit. It’s good that we can extend a lead on a loop like this. It gives us confidence for the afternoon, but we know there is still a long way to go.”
Esapekka Lappi, driving a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, was Neuville’s closest challenger. He held third overall for most of the morning but leapfrogged Ott Tänak in the final stage as the Estonian complained of a differential fault on his Hyundai. Just 1.3s splits the pair with three stages remaining today.
Dani Sordo is a further 12s back in fourth ahead of Elfyn Evans, who reported mixed grip levels in his Yaris.
Ford Puma Rally1s account for the next three positions after M-Sport’s troubled loop. Gus Greensmith is sixth despite his engine intermittently cutting out and Loubet is 20.4s further back following his delay. Craig Breen, who was delayed by a damaged tyre on Friday, completes the trio.
Takamoto Katsuta’s confidence took a knock when he spun on the first stage. The Japanese Toyota driver is behind Breen to ninth overall, with FIA WRC2 leader Emil Lindholm rounding out the top 10 in his Toksport Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo.
Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä is almost 15 minutes adrift of the leaders after sideswiping a tree on a right-hander on the Perivoli stage. The 21-year-old managed to limp back to service with heavy body damage while also nursing a brake issue.
Teemu Suninen is second in WRC2 for Hyundai Motorsport N, followed by Yohan Rossel (PH Sport Citroën C3 Rally2). Armin Kremer is more than three minutes clear of Jean-Michel Raoux in the WRC2 Masters’ Cup. Robert Virves topped the FIA WRC3 Junior places after SS10 and is on course to take the title ahead of Jon Armstrong.
The second running of the Pyrgos stage is up next from 14h33 local time.