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Kris Meeke leads before running into trouble in Portugal

 

By Sammy Hamill

Kris Meeke's season continues to go from bad to worse. A broken suspension forced him to stop towards the end of yesterday's leg of Rally Portugal - his fifth retirement in six rounds of this year's World Championship.

The winner in Portugal 12 months ago, the Dungannon driver showed there were no ill-effects from his huge accident in Argentina last month when he edged his Citroen into the lead after the first loop of gravel stages yesterday morning.

But the afternoon brought trouble. A slow puncture on the sixth stage saw him drop back to fifth place, albeit just six seconds off the lead held by Ford's Ott Tanak and little more than a second behind his Citroen team-mate Craig Breen.

Then on stage seven Meeke's C3 was reported stopped with another puncture, but it proved to be more serious than a flat wheel. He and co-driver Paul Nagle changed the wheel and tried to carry on but the rear suspension had been damaged and they were forced to park the car, their day over.

Meeke was expected to re-join today under Rally2 rules but will be hit with heavy time penalties, ruling him out of contention for a second Portuguese win.

The only round the Ulsterman has completed this season without accidents or mechanical issues has been Rally Mexico - which he won.

But double Circuit of Ireland winner Breen had a strong day and was in fourth place overnight despite his Citroen also suffering suspension damage on the 18-mile Ponte de Lima seventh stage.

"Until we broke a suspension damper the car had been perfect, the best I've ever driven," said Breen. "But we'll get it sorted overnight and we'll be back in the fight again."

The Citroen mechanics had already been busy re-building Stephane Lefebvre's C3 after he rolled on stage three.

Breen was just 12 seconds behind the leading Ford Fiesta of Estonian Tanak, who had Hyundai's Dani Sordo breathing down his neck, and World champion Sebastien Ogier in third place in the second M-Sport Ford.

Last year's Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans was in fifth place in another M-Sport Fiesta, with Thierry Neuville dropping to sixth after his Hyundai was slowed by the dust thrown up by Jari-Matti Latvala's damaged Toyota. The Finn had led initially but rolled his Yaris on the rough, troublesome stage seven, which also claimed the Hyundai of Hayden Paddon.

Meanwhile, being a schoolboy racer can bring its own problems - like exams.

Daniel Harper had to skip the first practice session for this weekend's UK Ginetta Junior Championship at Oulton Park while he sat a physical education GCSE exam. Fortunately the Dromore High School student was able to take the exam just down the road from the Cheshire circuit in Chester.

Harper is currently second in the Ginetta standings after winning the rookie title last season.

Harper and his fellow youngsters provide one of the supporting events for the British Touring Car Championship's trio of races tomorrow.

Colin Turkington is expected to be one of the main contenders having already won seven times at Oulton Park. He is third in the championship table after scoring BMW's 100th BTCC victory at Thruxton a fortnight ago.

Belfast Telegraph

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