Loeb leads Acropolis Rally
Loutraki - Sebastien Loeb claimed the lead in the Acropolis Rally on Friday, opening up a 6.5 second lead over Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala after a demanding second day in tricky conditions.
French world champion Loeb, who has not won in Greece for four years, trailed Latvala by 2.8 seconds after Thursday's first stage but showed his class on the rock-strewn terrain in and around the gulf of Corinth.
Friday's itinerary consisted of eight stages over a gruelling 12-hour period with service during the day restricted to two 15-minute remote stops in the town of Itea.
Loeb took the lead on stage four, Elikonas, and held it until the final stage of the day, SS9.
"We are leading so that's the most important thing. There was a lot of dust in this stage and I made two mistakes near the end, but generally it was a good day," said Loeb.
Latvala, who has made an impressive return from a broken collarbone which forced him to miss the previous round in Argentina, reduced Loeb's lead to just 6.5 seconds.
The factory Ford driver suffered the injury while on a cross-country skiing training run in Lapland.
Back behind the wheel, the Ford driver's stage win on the second run through Thiva saw him beat Loeb by 3.7 seconds, as the Citroen man battled with visibility issues due to numerous delayed cars ahead kicking up dust.
"It has been a reasonably good day; I started gaining back my driving in the afternoon," said Latvala.
"I will try to catch him tomorrow but it's like in Finland, where the differences are in seconds!"
Latvala's team-mate Petter Solberg also shaved time off Loeb's lead on Thiva and heads into the overnight break 17.7 seconds off the lead in third place.
In the second Citroen, fourth-placed Mikko Hirvonen lost time after suffering a puncture, which the Finn suspected was the result of some slight deviations off the beaten track while unsighted by dust.
Saturday's route of eight stages takes competitors closer to base in the Peloponnese region and includes the new 21 km Ziria stage.
Loeb leads the standings after five rounds of the championship on 91 points ahead of Norway's Petter Solberg on 73, Hirvonen with 70 and Ostberg on 68.
Acropolis Rally standings after Friday's eight special stages:
1. Sebastien Loeb (FRA) Citroen DS3 2hr 14min 01.3sec
2. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) Ford Fiesta at 6.5s
3. Petter Solberg (NOR) Ford Fiesta 17.7
4. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) Citroen DS3 49.6
5. Evgeny Novikov (RUS) Ford Fiesta 3:54.9
6. Martin Prokop (CZE) Ford Fiesta 4:46.7
7. Nasser Al Attiyah (QAT) Citroen DS3 4:56.9
8. Mads Ostberg (NOR) Ford Fiesta 5:14.6
9. Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Skoda Fabia S2000 5:27.2
Special stage winners
Latvala 5 (SS1, SS2, SS3, SS7, SS9); P. Solberg 2 (SS4, SS8); Hirvonen 1 (SS5); Loeb 1 (SS6)