Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson has survived a drama filled opening day at the Acropolis Rally, to finish the first seven stages of the event in eighth place.

On a typically hot and testing Acropolis Rally day, the brutal roads took their toll on many in the field, including Atkinson in his brand new Impreza WRC2008.

Near the end of the penultimate stage, Atkinson, Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen, all hit a rock, causing them to dump time right when they looked like they had survived the day relatively unscathed.

The Queenslander’s car suffered a flat tyre and damage to the front control arm, and the service park was a long transport section and another stage away.

On the 56 kilometre journey back to the final super special stage, Atkinson and co-driver Stéphane Prévot were forced to stop on the roadside and make running repairs.

The pair copped a 20 second penalty for a late check-in to the final stage, which they limped around in 29th place. Relieved, they returned to the service park where their team rectified the problem in readiness for the challenges ahead tomorrow.

Leading the way at the end of day one is Sebastien Loeb, followed by his Citroen team mate Dani Sordo in second place, 15.7 seconds back.

Subaru’s Petter Solberg leap-frogged Latvala and Hirvonen on the Super Special to round-out the top three, 59.1 seconds behind Loeb. Latvala dropped 70 seconds on the last stage alone to go from second to sixth.

Atkinson is still in a points-scoring position in eighth, one minute 56.8 seconds in arrears of the leader, and 20.4 seconds behind the seventh-placed Hirvonen.

The Gold Coast driver was pleased to get back to the service park so he could start focusing on the remaining to days ahead.

“We’ve finished the first day which is very important,” Atkinson said.

“We damaged a control arm in the afternoon on the roughest stage of the day which lost us some time.

“It’s good to be in the new car, and we know we still have some work to do. We knew bringing the new car to this event would be tough. We need to find a bit more, but that’s what we came here to learn, and we are learning.”

Subaru World Rally Team principal, David Richards, was upbeat about the new Impreza WRC2008 after both cars successfully completed the first day of their debut event, largely regarded as the most punishing rally on the calendar.

“It was a brave move to bring the new car to an event like this, but to succeed in motorsport you must be bold,” Richards said.

“Petter and Chris did a great job and demonstrated a steady and consistent pace today on an event which claimed other front-runners.”

“You have to balance the risk of pushing flat out whilst treating this event as an endurance test, and today the mix worked well for Petter especially. This car is a definite step forward for us. By competing at this stage of the season we put ourselves in the best possible position to exploit the huge potential in the car and achieve our objective of winning again by the end of the year.”

On day two of the Acropolis Rally crews will tackle six stages totalling 119 competitive kilometres, the longest day of the event. Competitors will also face the Aghii Theodori and Pissia stages, the roughest and most demanding of the rally, as they travel west from the Tatoi service park reaching as far as the Corinth Canal.

Results after day one – Acropolis Rally

1. Loeb / Elena, Citroen C4 WRC, 1h 21m 34.8s
2. Sordo / Marti, Citroen C4 WRC, +15.7s (diff. to 1st)
3. Solberg / Mills, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +59.1s
4. Solberg / Menkerud, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +1m 06.0s
5. Aava / Sikk, Citroen C4, +1m 15.5s
6. Latvala / Anttila, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +1m 18.9s
7. Hirvonen / Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +1m 36.4s
8. Atkinson / Prévot, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +1m 36.8s
9. Andersson / Andersson, Suzuki SX4, +2m 23.8s
10. Villagra / Perez Companc, Ford Focus RS WRC 07, +2m 29.3s
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