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Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala returned from injury with the fastest time on stage one of the Acropolis Rally in Greece on Thursday to take a lead of 2.8 seconds over French world champion Sebastien Loeb.
The factory Ford driver had missed the previous round in Argentina after breaking his left collarbone while on a cross-country skiing training run in Lapland.
His compatriot Mikko Hirvonen was third quickest on Thursday with Norway's Mads Ostberg fourth fastest.
Latvala said: “I was very equal with Loeb but at the end I seemed to pull out some time at the hairpins.
“I felt really fast in places.”
Loeb leads the standings after five rounds of the championship on 91 points ahead of Norway's Petter Solberg on 73, Hirvonen with 70 and Ostberg on 68.
The Frenchman said: “In some places there is a lot of grip, some places no grip so it is difficult to understand where you can push and where you have to be careful.”
Solberg blamed his fifth-place finish on his decision to run soft-compound tyres on his factory Fiesta rather than the hard option chosen by his rivals.
The Norwegian's tyres had lost a lot of grip by the end of the run, which he finished 14.6 seconds slower than Latvala.
“It was my decision and I believed in it,” said Solberg. “I thought it could have been colder, it was just a mistake and I should have listened to the team. Okay that's how it is and we learn from that. We are not out of it.” - Reuters