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Evans in front amid Citroen catastrophe

 

By Sammy Hamill

Kris Meeke and his Abu Dhabi Citroen team had such high hopes for Rally Argentina but they were short-lived.

The Dungannon driver and his Waterford team-mate Craig Breen were sidelined before the midday service break on the opening leg.

Meeke, the Argentina winner in 2015, had been bullish before the start, revelling in his role as rally favourite while warning that this was an unpredictable event.

He certainly wouldn't have predicted that both C3 Citroens would be out of the rally after just four stages, or that the runaway leader would be Elfyn Evans, the reigning British champion and winner of last year's Ulster Rally.

But it was the young Welshman, effectively No.3 in the M-Sport Ford team, who jumped into an early lead in his DMACK Fiesta, setting fastest times on all of the first five stages yesterday.

And it was Meeke who slotted into second just a few seconds behind, seemingly comfortable with the pace and the performance of his Citroen. But on stage four the car flew off the road into the undergrowth and although spectators manhandled it back onto the gravel track it had sustained damage front and rear.

Meeke nursed it to the end of the stage, albeit with a time loss of some six minutes, but it was determined the damage was too severe to continue.

"It was a nothing bump in the middle of a corner but it launched the car into the air and it flew off the road," he explained. "I was caught completely by surprise."

The same stage brought about Breen's downfall too, as his C3 jammed in fifth gear. In Argentina for the first time the double Circuit of Ireland winner had made a steady start and was in eighth place, when he bottomed out in a dip in the road, the heavy impact pushing up the sumpguard and damaging the gearbox.

He too, limped to the end of the stage, but with the gearbox jammed he was unable to continue. Both cars were trailered back to the service park in Cordoba where the Citroen mechanics set about repairing them to re-join the rally today under Rally2 rules.

Evans, meanwhile, enjoyed a dream start. In second place behind the Ford of World champion Sebastien Ogier after the short superspecial stage in Cordoba on Thursday night, he sprinted into the lead as soon as the rally hit the rough gravel tracks yesterday.

With the demise of Meeke, Evans pulled clear and after the first six stages was 47 seconds up on Ford privateer Mads Ostberg with Toyota's Jari Matti Latvala almost a minute behind in third.

The official Fords of Ott Tanak and Ogier were fourth and fifth ahead of the Hyundais of Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon, the New Zealander recovering after rolling his i20 on yesterday's first stage.

Belfast Telegraph

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