Sébastien Ogier won the first Acropolis Rally stage in the World Rally Championship in eight years, leading a Toyota 1-2-3 on the Athens street stage.
The stage, which was effectively a four-turn circuit in downtown Athens, was incredibly short at just 0.6 miles in length.
Two donuts around a haybale added an extra challenge, but the premise of the stage – which comprised one and a half laps of the man-made layout – was to bring rallying to the Greek capital rather than provide the drivers with the sternest test.
Predictably, given the nature of the stage, the times among the frontrunners were incredibly tight as the six fastest cars on the leaderboard were covered by less than a second.
However reigning world champion Ogier pulled himself 0.6 seconds clear of the rest; an impressive feat given it took him just 51.5s to complete the stage.
“Obviously it’s a hard job for us tomorrow opening the road as always on gravel but we’ll try hard for a good result because it’s a rally I like,” said the overnight leader.
Speaking before he knew Ogier had pipped him to the lead of the rally ahead of the first day proper, second-placed driver Elfyn Evans said: “It’s always good to get off to a nice start, even if it’s very, very short and in the scale of things probably won’t make so much difference.”
Kalle Rovanperä, who was fastest on the shakedown stage earlier on Thursday, was 0.2s slower than Evans in another Yaris WRC but 0.1s clear of Thierry Neuville.
“It’s really nice, [there are] a lot of people so after a long time it’s nice to drive for the people and show what we do with the cars,” Rovanperä said, referencing the lack of spectators present at recent rallies due to COVID-19.
Neuville was the quickest Hyundai driver but only 0.1s split all three cars as Dani Sordo (pictured above) and Ott Tänak share fifth place overnight, a tenth behind the Ypres Rally winner.
“Coming back to Greece, actually the roads at least first day on the recce were incredible,” said Tänak.
“For sure it will be a big challenge, it’s a new rally again.”
WRC2 title contenders Mads Østberg and Andreas Mikkelsen set identical times to share seventh overall and the lead of WRC2 heading into Friday.
Mikkelsen’s and Østberg’s were not the only two Rally2 machines to outmuscle some of the more powerful World Rally Cars.
Gus Greensmith was 1.7s adrift of the fastest Rally2, but 3.6s faster than the next World Rally Car of Pierre-Louis Loubet (2C Competition Hyundai, pictured above).
His run was a touch scrappy, but Loubet was still 0.2s quicker than French compatriot Adrien Fourmaux, who bogged down on the first donut and lost a chunk of time.
Greensmith is 17th overall with Loubet and Fourmaux 20th and 21st.
Greek driver Lambros Athanassoulas opened the show in his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 and there was immediately some confusion as Ford Fiesta WRC driver Jourdan Serderidas went some 35s quicker.
However, it transpired that WRC3 contender Athanassoulas was indeed quicker than his compatriot, he had just mistakenly done an extra lap of the Athens street circuit. His time was subsequently corrected to be 2.2s faster than Serderidas’.
Leading positions after SS1
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) 51.5s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) +0.6s
3 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) +0.8s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +0.9s
5 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1s
6 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +1.3s
8 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën C3 Rally2) +1.3s
9 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +1.5s
10 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +1.5s