Fired up after mishap

Peugeot’s Marcus Gronholm is fired up to win Sunday’s new-look Acropolis Rally after being stripped of victory in Cyprus last month. «All I can do now is forget about that and get on with Greece,» the two-times world champion said after being disqualified for having an illegal water pump. «I want to win there, I want to show that this car is ready to win.» Cyprus would have been the Peugeot 307’s first world championship success since it was introduced at the start of the season and Finland’s Gronholm would have been top of the standings. Instead, French rival Sebastien Loeb leads the way for Citroen on the car-breaking boulder-filled roads around Lamia, north of Athens, when the rally proper starts today after yesterday’s 2.25km (1.4-mile) superspecial stage. The traditional ceremonial start at the Parthenon has been scrapped this year. Loeb has 35 points after five rounds, one more than Ford’s Estonian Markko Martin. Norwegian world champion Petter Solberg has 28 for Subaru with Gronholm on 24. For the first time, drivers who crash out or retire will be allowed to rejoin the race at the start of the next day in a test run of a controversial new ‘SupeRally’ format due to be introduced in 2005. But those cars that rejoin the rally will not be allowed to score points and will not be listed in the official classification. Ford have won the Acropolis for the past four years and reliability will be more important than ever with the introduction this time of a remote tire and fuel service zone tomorrow to allow the rally to move further away from its base. Mechanics will have just 10 minutes to fit fresh tires, refuel and carry out minor repairs and cars will carry additional spares for the nearly 90km (55 miles) without traditional service. «Last year was special but it makes no difference to this year’s event,» said Martin, who took the first win of his world championship career in Greece last season. «What has made a difference is the changes to the results of the last round in Cyprus. Marcus Gronholm’s exclusion means that I will now be second in the start order on the opening day. That will be difficult because we can expect loose and slippery gravel on the road surface during the first pass of the stages while those behind us will enjoy cleaner and faster conditions.» Citroen, a point behind Ford in the manufacturers’ standings, are also confident of coming out on top after three days of heat and dust. «We should be more competitive on the Acropolis than we were in Cyprus,» said team boss Guy Frequelin. «I hope we will be up front fighting for victory and I must admit I would be disappointed if that wasn’t the case.» (Reuters)