SPORTS

Acropolis Rally begins today

Finland’s Marcus Gronholm is hoping that a second successive victory in the Acropolis Rally, which starts today, will put him firmly in control of this year’s world drivers’ championship. The 39-year-old Ford Focus driver, who won the last rally in Italy, goes into what is traditionally one of the toughest rallies on the circuit with a seven-point lead in the standings over world champion Frenchman Sebastien Loeb. «Victory in Italy put me back into the lead of the championship,» the twice world champion told the Ford website. «The next two rallies give me the opportunity to build on that lead. The Acropolis is traditionally a strong event for Ford, while the first event after the summer break in Finland is my home event so I really want to capitalize on those.» The rally opens today with a super special stage on gravel at a specially constructed track at the equestrian center just outside Athens. After that the cars will be flying around the dusty roads of Attica. «It’s a hard event for both drivers and cars,» noted Gronholm. «The weather during our test this week was cold, muddy and wet. It is forecast to turn warmer and drier in time for the rally but in the shaded areas where the surface is often clay-based, mud patches may remain. That will be strange for Greece. My confidence is good and I really want to take the fight to Loeb as I did in Italy.» Loeb, who is looking for his fourth consecutive world title, has already won four rallies this season – in Monte Carlo, Mexico, Portugal and Argentina. But he needs to bounce back after putting his Citroen into a ditch on the last day of the Italy race in Sardinia. A 1-2 result in Italy for Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen means Ford goes into the race with a 21-point lead in the manufacturers’ championship it won in 2006. Hirvonen, winner of the rally in Norway, may be the one to challenge the big two. «If Marcus and Sebastien are battling for the lead, I want to be as close to them as possible,» he said. (Reuters)