Fired-up Meeke raises the ante in Monte Carlo Rally
Kris Meeke was fastest in the shakedown test ahead of this evening's start to the Monte Carlo Rally and the new World championship season.
The Dungannon driver, officially competing for Citroen's satellite team PH Sport although supported by factory engineers, edged out the Volkswagen Polo of World champion Sebastien Ogier by two tenths of a second on the first of the permitted five runs over the 4km test stage near Gap in the French Alps.
The Hyundais of Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville were third and fourth fastest ahead of the VWs of Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala, all of them more than three seconds slower than the Ulsterman.
And with conditions becoming icier, Meeke elected to take just one more run, again setting the quickest time and declaring himself happy with his DS3. No one was able to approach his quickest time despite several drivers, including Ogier, making up to four passes over the stage.
Meeke's new team-mate, young Frenchman Stephane Lefebrve, was eighth fastest, sandwiched between the Fords of Robert Kubica and Mads Ostberg, the Norwegian who partnered Meeke at Citroen last season.
The rally starts with two stages in darkness tonight and finishes on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Kajetan Kajetanowicz has announced he will defend his European championship title this year - which almost certainly means a return to the Circuit of Ireland in April.
The Pole, who battled throughout 2015 with Ireland's Craig Breen, considered a move to the WRC2 category in the World championship but has decided to return to the European series.
Kajto finished second to Breen on the Circuit of Ireland last Easter, beaten by just six seconds despite it being his first time on Irish tarmac, but he loved the experience.
A big factor in his decision to stay in the ERC is the inclusion of a Polish round, Rally Rzeszowski in August, an event he has won twice in the past. "The Polish fans believe in me, support me and I do not want to disappoint them," he explained.
Kajetanowicz won three rounds of the ERC and took four other podiums on his way to the title last year in his R5 Ford Fiesta. Breen also won three times but mechanical problems with his Peugeot saw him lose out.