Jari-Matti Latvala made the best possible start to his return to the World Rally Championship by taking the early lead of the Acropolis Rally.
The Ford driver had missed the last round in Argentina after breaking his collarbone in a skiing accident. Rather than starting with a superspecial, this year's Acropolis features a solitary full-length stage – the 25 kilometers of Kineta – on Thursday afternoon before the crews head for the overnight break.
Ford had been quicker than Citroen on the morning's qualifying stage, and Latvala maintained that form to beat Sebastien Loeb to the fastest SS1 time by 2.8 seconds.
"It's a good start," said Latvala. "I think I made the time on Loeb at hairpins towards the end of the stage. I am happy to be back in the car now – this is the most important thing."
The second Citroen of Mikko Hirvonen was third, 7.1sec off the lead.
While one works Ford led the way, the second factory car of Petter Solberg lost 14.6sec and ended up in fifth, just behind Mads Ostberg's Adapta Ford. Unlike all the other front-runners, Solberg took soft rather than hard tires – and found himself very short of rubber by the finish.
"I should have listened to the team," said the Norwegian. "I thought the surface was going to be sandier than it was."
Evgeny Novikov (M-Sport Ford) was only a few seconds off Solberg in sixth, with his teammate Ott Tanak heading Martin Prokop (Czech Ford) and Thierry Neuville (Citroen Junior) in a very close battle for seventh.
Solberg's countryman Andreas Mikkelsen also suffered in the stage, his Skoda Fabia S2000 developed a transmission problem which left the car in rear-wheel drive or the latter part of the test.
The crews now return to service in Loutraki before starting day one proper on Friday morning. Friday will bring eight stages and 100 competitive miles in a 15-hour day.
Leading positions after SS1:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford 17m38.0s
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 2.8s
3. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen + 7.1s
4. Mads Ostberg Adapta Ford + 13.7s
5. Petter Solberg Ford + 14.6s
6. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford + 20.4s
7. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford + 36.3s
8. Martin Prokop Czech Ford + 37.4s
9. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior + 37.8s
10. Sebastien Ogier VW Skoda + 41.8s