SPORTS

Acropolis Rally begins today

Two-time defending champion Sebastien Loeb will be looking to equal Carlos Sainz’s all-time record of 25 career wins in the World Rally Championship car race at Greece’s Acropolis Rally, which begins today and ends Sunday. Loeb registered his fifth straight victory this season in the Rally of Italy less than a fortnight ago to further consolidate his lead after seven of 16 races. The Frenchman has 66 points, 31 more than Finland’s Marcus Gronholm, who withdrew from the Italian rally after leading on the first day. For the second year running, part of the Acropolis Rally will be held inside the main OAKA Olympic complex, making it a more spectator-friendly event. Organizers, who decided to make last year’s Acropolis Rally the first world championship race to run a stage in a stadium, have taken the approach a step further this year with two stages inside the stadium: the first and last. The move reflects the overwhelming success of last year’s initiative to stage the opening stage at the Olympic stadium. A sellout crowd had enjoyed watching two cars at a time speed around two laps of a 1.2-kilometer tarmac track. Loeb’s Citroen team is confident that the Frenchman will reach his 26th career win in Greece to equal Sainz’s feat. Considering BP Ford driver Gronholm’s blistering start in the world championship’s previous round, Loeb and his camp will need to be particularly watchful of the rival team’s efforts in Greece, where it holds a sturdy record. The Ford team enjoyed a winning streak at the Acropolis Rally between 2000 and 2003. But this year’s stages at the Greek rally have been revised, meaning that the Ford team cannot rely on its past accomplishments. Besides Gronholm, the Ford team’s ranks include Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen, who placed second in Italy, 2:41 behind Loeb. Spain’s Daniel Sordo, racing in a Citroen Xsara, came in at 3:27, back in third place. Of the 91 teams registered to take part in this year’s 53rd Acropolis Rally, the majority will be manned by local drivers, with Aris Vovos and Michalis Patrikousis expected to fare best among the Greeks.