Kris Meeke went into today’s second leg of Rally Finland in a solid eighth place as World champion Sebastien Loeb led the way.
Meeke, starting his second World championship event with the new John Cooper Mini team, said his priority was to get some competitive mileage under his belt after his spectacular but brief debut in Sardinia in May.
The Dungannon driver was up alongside the leaders, including Loeb, on the Italian round but was forced to retire shortly afterwards.
His approach to the fast, jumpy Finnish stages was more cautious but he was still comfortably inside the top 10 and just six seconds behind his Spanish team-mate Dani Sordo, but 20 adrift of Loeb, after the short opening leg yesterday.
“I found a good rhythm and was driving comfortably within myself but because of my lack of knowledge of these stages I was braking far too early in places,” he said.
“Still, the rally’s just beginning and its been a good steady start.”
Up at the front, Loeb led his Citroen team-mate Sebastien Ogier by three seconds with Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala a further second back in third and Finnish privateer Jari Ketomaa (Ford) a stunning fourth ahead of Petter Solberg.
But Ford’s lead driver Mikko Hirvonen was already two minutes off the pace after hitting a tree, damaging the suspension and brakes of his Fiesta.
In the WRC Academy section Trillick’s Alastair Fisher made a superb start and led by 18 seconds from Brenda Reeves with Waterford’s Craig Breen in fourth place.