Peugeot’s Marcus Gronholm set the pace on the 32,55-km Elatia-Zeli stage of the Acropolis Rally on Friday. His team-mate Harri Rovanpera was second both on SS3 and the overall standings.

Peugeot’s Marcus Gronholm set the pace in the 32,55-km Elatia-Zeli stage of the Acropolis Rally on Friday. His team-mate Harri Rovanpera was second both in SS3 and the overall standings.

Gronholm was 5,4 seconds quicker than Rovanpera on SS3, and nine seconds quicker than the best of rest, Subaru’s Petter Solberg. On aggregate, the Finn held a 7,8 second advantage over his team-mate at the time of this report.

But Ford’s Markko Martin, second in the championship standings by just one point, slid off the road and down a steep bank, and there weren’t enough spectators to haul the Focus RS 04 WRC back on-track and the Estonian may be forced to retire.

Martin’s Belgian team-mate, Francois Duval, went fourth quickest, 13 seconds slower than Gronholm, with the Citroën of points leader Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz, 16,1 seconds and 21,5 seconds off the pace respectively. At the time, both were already over half a minute behind the flying Gronholm.

Subaru’s Mikko Hirvonen, Peugeot privateer Daniel Carlsson, Skoda’s Toni Gardemeister and Mitsubishi’s Gilles Panizzi completed the top 10 on the stage, but there was a further major drama behind them.

Mitsubishi’s Dani Sola lost a front wheel on SS2, but soldiered on through SS3, trying to keep out of the way of other traffic. However, when the Spaniard pulled his Lancer over to let rapid Ford Focus privateer Roma Kresta – who’d been eighth overall after SS2 – past it all went horribly wrong. Kresta’s car hit Sola’s and the Ford is reported to have caught fire. The stage is currently on hold for drivers further down the starting order.

Skoda’s Armin Schwarz was ahead of this mess, but he too is in trouble. The German is stopped in the stage, reporting trouble at the rear of the car, thought to be transmission related. French rising star Nicolas Vouilloz is also out of the event after rolling his Peugeot 206 WRC heavily on SS2.

“We’ve had no problems,” said Gronholm in the service halt after SS3. “We’re pushing quite hard, but I wouldn’t say we were flat-out yet. The tyre choice was good, and the road surface was not so bad”.

But Rovanpera knocked the steering out of alignment slightly on a rock during SS3 and said that had made the Peugeot’s handling “quite vague.”

Subaru's Petter Solberg said: "I tried not to make any mistakes, but the conditions were looser than I expected and I think perhaps I should have chosen a different tyre. We lost a bit of time on the fast bits with the tyre I chose, but it lasted well and wasn't a major problem. I'm going to make a few small changes to the diffs and suspension like I normally do on the first day and I think we'll be right on the case for the next three."

Original article from Car