Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson has produced a strong performance on the opening day of the Acropolis Rally in Greece, to finish Leg One in third place, just nine seconds behind the leader, Marcus Gronholm.

Fellow Subaru driver, Petter Solberg, completed the nine stages in second place, just 0.7 seconds clear of his team mate Atkinson.

It was a brilliant performance by the young Queenslander, who held the lead at the lunchtime service, having set the fastest time on three of the four stages contested.

The hot, dry and sunny conditions seemed to suit Atkinson, who charged through the rough stages confident with the handling of his Impreza WRC 2007.

The afternoon set of three stages saw a little of that confidence dissipate as some difficulties with the car re-emerged, but the Gold Coast driver was delighted to be at the pointy end of the field, battling for outright honours.

“We kept trying today, that’s for sure,” Atkinson said. “We didn’t have the best car balance this afternoon compared to the morning - even though we didn’t change the set-up at the midday service - but we kept pushing as hard as we could and we’ve come back to service still third overall.”

“Of course it’s good to be in such a strong position tonight, but the top ten is so close it’s crazy.”

“Most of the repeated stages weren’t as cut up as I expected they’d be, but the last one was extremely rough. I wanted to keep the third place so went absolutely flat out, the car was bouncing off everything on the way through – so it was a relief that everything held together.”

Solberg also won a stage during the morning set, making it four fastest times from the four stages contested for the Subaru pair.

“Like Chris we had a good morning, and then a more difficult afternoon when I struggled a bit with the handling, but still the times overall have been positive and I know there’s more speed to come,” Solberg said.

“Tomorrow I really hope that we can get the whole package working well again, I expect that we’ll see a very exciting fight on the stages.”

Another two days of this rally, considered by many to be the toughest gravel rally on the tour, remains and less than eleven seconds separate the top six.

But after recent troubles, Subaru World Rally Team managing director, Richard Taylor, was delighted with the competitive performance of drivers and cars.

“We’re delighted to have two cars in podium positions at the end of leg one,” Taylor said.

“We made a strong tyre choice for this morning’s loop of stages and it was fantastic for Chris to be leading when the cars came back into service at mid-day.”

“The team performance today is proof that we’re moving in the right direction with the development of the car. We haven’t made huge gains in any one section of the car, but we have made small progress in a few areas and it’s great to see those changes having a positive result.”

Another eight stages await the drivers tomorrow. The leg begins with a gargantuan 48.88km test, Agii Theodori. The rest of the stages are short by comparison, but the long test is repeated again in the afternoon, when conditions are likely to be very rough. The day ends with another blast around the Olympic horse racing superspecial in Markopoulo. The total competitive distance will be 146.08km.

Results – Acropolis Rally, End of Leg One

1, Grönholm / Rautiainen, FORD Focus RS WRC 06, 01:19:16.0, 00.0
2, Solberg / Mills, SUBARU Impreza WRC 06, 01:19:24.3, +08.3
3, Atkinson / Prevot, SUBARU Impreza WRC 06, 01:19:25.0, +09.0
4, Loeb / Elena, CITROEN C4, 01:19:25.7, +09.7
5, Hirvonen / Lehtinen, FORD Focus RS WRC 06, 01:19:26.3, +10.3
6, Sordo / Marti, CITROEN C4, 01:19:26.7, +10.7
7, Solberg / Menkerud, FORD Focus RS WRC 06, 01:20:01.2, +45.2
8, Latvala / Anttila, FORD Focus RS WRC 06, 01:20:04.3, +48.3
9, Stohl / Minor, CITROEN Xsara WRC, 01:21:01.9, +01:45.9
10, Kopecky / Schovanek, SKODA Fabia WRC, 01:21:52.6, +02:36.6

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