Neuville grabs Acropolis lead as rivals' hopes reduced to ruins

·2-min read

Thierry Neuville led the Acropolis Rally at the end of Saturday after overnight leader Sebastian Loeb and championship pacesetter Kalle Rovanpera both hit trouble in the second stage of the morning.

Belgian Neuville led a trio of Hyundais at the top the standings.

Estonian Ott Tanak was second 27.9 seconds back with Spaniard Dani Sordo 52.9sec off first place in third.

"It has been a great day for us. A bit of a hard one this afternoon," said Neuville.

Neuville and Tanak are the only two drivers who can catch Finn Rovanpera in the drivers championship.

"We are here. Still not where we should be, but we are here," said Tanak.

Nine-time champion Loeb, now a 'part-timer' at age 48, was, competing in his fourth and final rally of the season for Ford. He was 19sec ahead of Neuville after the first stage of the morning, the eighth in the race.

But an alternator belt failure prevented Loeb starting the ninth stage.

Rovanpera, who had been down in ninth, sideswiped a tree on that stage, wrecking the back of his Toyota Yaris. He limped home on the stage 55th out of 62 finishers, losing almost six-and-half-minutes to Neuville and dropping to 19th overall.

On the same stage, Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet who had been running third in his Ford, suffered a puncture and dropped to seventh.

Finn Esapekka Lappi who had inherited second then suffered a fuel supply problem in his Toyota that stopped him just after the start of stage 12. He later retired.

As their rivals suffered misfortune, Hyundai dominated. Neuville won stages nine, ten and 11, Sordo took 12 and Tanak the last of the day.

"It was difficult," said Sordo. "We need to protect the position of the two cars in front in case something happens."

Rovanpera kept going and ended the day 15th overall, more than 16 minutes behind Neuville.

"It was pretty bad to be honest. Could have been a bit better if I didn't make the mistake, but it's done now. I can't change things," he said after the last stage.

Standings: 1. Thierry Neuville-Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL/Hyundai) in 3hr 6min 34.4sec, 2. Ott Tanak-Martin Jarveoja (EST/Hyundai) at 27.9sec, 3. Dani Sordo-Candido Carrera (ESP/Hyundai)  52.9, 4. Elfyn Evans-Scott Martin (GBR/Toyota)  1min, 5. Pierre-Louis Loubet-Vincent Landais (FRA/M-Sport Ford) 2:40.1, 6. Craig Breen-Paul Nagle (IRL/M-Sport Ford) 3:47.2,  7. Takamoto Katsuta-Aaron Johnston (JPN-IRL/Toyota) à 4:41.2

Others

22. Kalle Rovanperä-Jonne Halttunen (FIN/Toyota) 16:04.1

Leading retirements: Sebastien Loeb-Isabelle Galmiche (FRA/M-Sport Ford), Esapekka Lappi-Janne Ferm (FIN/Toyota), Gus Greensmith-Jonas Andersson (GBR-SWE/M-Sport Ford)

Stage winners: Loeb (SS2, SS3, SS4, SS7), Neuville (SS1, SS9, SS10, SS11), Loubet (SS5, SS6), Tanak 2 (SS8, SS13), Sordo (SS12)

dlo-pb/dmc