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Rallying legend Bjorn Waldegard brought the crowd to its feet in Athens' Olympic Stadium tonight when he turned back the clock with several high-speed laps in a classic Ford Escort rally car.  The 62-year-old former world champion and the Escort Mk1 were the star attractions in the run-up to the start of the Acropolis Rally of Greece, eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The stadium, home to the 2004 Olympic Games, was a cauldron of noise as the 1979 world champion, who helped Ford to the manufacturers' world title in the same season, climbed behind the wheel of the 200bhp, 1800cc BDA-engined Escort.  He twice raced head-to-head against Greek driver Tasos Markuizos ('Iaveris') over two laps of the purpose-built super special stage inside the open-air arena.

Waldegard was co-driven by international television presenter Nikos Aliagos, who climbed out of the Escort at the end of the stage to host the rest of the evening.

The car was built to original rally specification as a Ford entry in the 25th anniversary London-Sydney Rally in 1993.  It was rebuilt again the following year for the 1995-rerun of the 16,000-mile London-Mexico World Cup Rally.  Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm, who won the original rally in 1970, also drove this car to success.

"It's a beautiful rally car that brought back many memories for me," said Waldegard.  "To drive the Escort here in the Olympic Stadium in front of so many people was something quite special.  It's a truly classic car and I hope the fans enjoyed watching it in action as much as I did behind the wheel.  I was honoured to be invited here by Ford and the rally organisers.  It's a remarkable venue in which to hold a rally and the perfect start location for one of the classic events in world rallying."

The Acropolis Rally of Greece has special importance in Waldegard's life.  He won the event in 1977 and 1979, his second victory of two successes in his championship winning season.  Waldegard won 16 world rallies in his career, including four triumphs on the legendary East African Safari Rally in Kenya.

Following Waldegard's appearance, the stadium hosted the opening action of the 1279.29km event.  BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are bidding for victory in their Focus RS World Rally Cars.  The rally ends back in the Olympic Stadium on Sunday afternoon after 18 speed tests, the bulk of which are on rough gravel tracks in the hills surrounding the Greek capital.
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