Kris Meeke clinches first win for a British driver at World Rally Championship in Argentina
"This is for a man who isn't here; this one's for Colin." An emotional Kris Meeke could barely speak at the end of Rally Argentina but his first words were for his hero, his mentor and his friend Colin McRae.
Appropriate, then, that Meeke became the first British driver since the late great McRae in 2002 to win a World championship rally. And the 35-year-old from Dungannon, who admitted his role as a Citroen driver was on the line ahead of the Argentine round, also enters the record books as the first WRC winner from the island of Ireland.
But how Meeke answered his doubters and how he repaid the faith of Citroen Sport boss Yves Matton who selected the Ulsterman to head up the team last year was typical of his never-say-die attitude.
Under intense pressure after crashing on each of the first three rounds this year, Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle hit the front from the second stage on Friday and kept the chasing pack at bay with a mixture of speed and "clean" driving. In the end they held off team-mates Mads Ostberg and Jonas Andersson to win by 18 seconds in a Citroen one-two finish. Young Welshman Elfyn Evans was third for Ford but over three minutes adrift.
With his job on the line, many thought Meeke might go into his shell and settle for a safe approach, just looking to finish. But no, he was in second place behind Sebastien Ogier when the World champion's Volkswagen stopped with a fuel pressure problem on stage two and he laid down a marker by beating the field by over half a minute.
And as his rivals succumbed to the rugged Argentinian stages Meeke mixed fastest times with caution in the roughest patches to stay in front for the remaining three days. He had his frights, too, with a puncture, an overshoot into bushes and then the heart-stopping moment when the DS3 Citroen's engine cut out mid-stage on Saturday.
"The alarms went off in the car and I panicked," he admitted. "The engine had stopped and I didn't know what was wrong. But I hit the reset button on the computer and it came back to life again - in the middle of a river crossing. It was just a sensor that had popped out but it gave both of us an almighty scare."
But for once the errors which have marred his career were kept to a minimum of what is regarded as the toughest rally of the year. The rock-strewn roads claimed a succession of victims right to the end.
But not Meeke who had 27 seconds in hand over Ostberg and used 10 of them to ensure a win which he admitted was "an exceptionally long time coming." The wait just made it all the sweeter. Further back, Meeke's former co-driver Chris Patterson was alongside Khalid Al Qassimi, finishing sixth in the third Citroen, and another Ulster co-driver Marshall Clarke partnered Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari to win the WRC2 division in their Ford Focus in seventh place overall.
The Moffett brothers, Josh and Sam, finished one-two on the Monaghan Rally, round three of the Irish national championship.
And for the second rally in a row it was the younger Moffett, Josh, who came out on top, beating his big brother by just five seconds in their matching WRC Ford Fiestas. They inflicted the first defeat of the season on Donagh Kelly who had to settle for third in his Ford Focus.
Reigning national champion Declan Boyle's terrible season continued when he failed to start because of transmission trouble with his Subaru.
On Saturday, Kelly won the Londonderry-based Border Hopper Rally, finishing just three seconds ahead of the Subaru of Frank Wray with Derek McGeehan third in his WRC Mini.