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Subaru Rally driver Chris Atkinson’s final day at the Acropolis Rally ended early after a small spin resulted in suspension damage, but the Australian remains in third place in the World Rally Championship as the half-way mark of the series nears.

Sebastien Loeb won the rally to moved into the lead of the championship with 50 points after seven of the 15 rounds. He finished the brutal Greek event one minute 9.5 seconds clear of Atkinson’s team mate, Petter Solberg, which brought much joy to the Subaru World Rally Team with its debut of the Impreza WRC2008.

Mikko Hirvonen took third place in the rally and slipped back to second on the points’ table, just one behind the Frenchman with 49 points.

Atkinson remains third with 31 points, although the buffer over his other rivals is reduced, with Jari-Matti Latvala fourth with 26 points and Daniel Sordo fifth with 25.

Atkinson’s early retirement came after a brilliant start to the day when he set the fastest time on the opening test by six seconds, recording the first stage win for the Impreza WRC2008.

But on the very next stage things turned sour when the Gold Coast driver had a small spin. Normally this would cost no more than a few seconds but, being the unforgiving Acropolis Rally, the incident left the car with damaged rear suspension after striking a rock. While Atkinson completed the remainder of the stage he was unable to start the next one and was forced into retirement.

But the combination of his demonstration of speed and the second placing of his team mate has given Atkinson hope for the remainder of the season.

“It’s good to get the first stage win for the new car on its first rally; it’s a good feeling,” Atkinson said. “It obviously hasn’t been a good weekend for points for us, but other people have had bad luck this year and we were just unlucky this time.

“We wanted to see what the car would do and it felt good this morning, which showed in the speed. We can be faster though as there is still more to come.

When we get the package just right we’ll be a lot faster still.”

The next round of the series is Rally Turkey is in two weekend’s time, from June 12 to 14. The event was last on the WRC calendar in 2006, and it will be the sixth gravel event in a row for the 2008 Championship.

The event is based in the city of Antalya, running from the service park in the town of Kemer. It consists of nineteen stages totalling 360 competitive kilometres. The stages are rough, and having moved to a date in June, the temperature is predicted to be near 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity high making for another punishing challenge.

Final results - Acropolis Rally
1. Loeb / Elena, Citroen C4 , 3h 54m 54.7s
2. Solberg / Mills, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +1m 09.5s (diff 1st)
3. Hirvonen / Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +1m 56.1s
4. Aava / Sikk, Citroen C4, +4m 19.7s
5. Sordo / Marti, Citroen C4 , +4m 49.4s
6. Wilson / Martin, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +6m 11.3s
7. Latvala / Anttila, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +6m 47.5s
8. Solberg / Menkerud, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +9m 14.0s
9. Gardemeister / Tuominen, Suzuki SX4, +10m 13.8s
10. Rautenbach / Senior, Citroen C4, +13m 29.1s
Ret., Atkinson / Prévot, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, -

Driver’s Championship points
1. Loeb / Elena, 50
2. Hirvonen / Lehtinen, 49
3. Atkinson / Prévot, 31
4. Latvala / Anttila, 26
5. Sordo / Marti, 25
6. P. Solberg / Mills, 17
7. Galli / Bernacchini, 17
8. H. Solberg / Menkerud, 12
 
Manufacturers’ Championship points
1. BP Ford WRT, 81
2. Citroen Total WRT, 79
3. Subaru World Rally Team, 50
4. Stobart VK M-Sport WRT, 37
5. Munchi’s Ford WRT, 16
6. Suzuki WRT, 10
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