Kris Meeke left frustrated as Toyota lap up success
As Jari-Matti Latvala scored a stunning Rally Sweden victory for the new Gazoo Toyota team, Dungannon's Kris Meeke was left frustrated and dejected, asserting: "We have work to do."
It was a view echoed by team-mate Craig Breen as, for the second rally in a row, Citroen's new C3 struggled to match the pace and the poise of not just Toyota but Ford and Hyundai as well. They didn't say as much but it was clear Meeke and Breen again found the more powerful C3 difficult to drive, its unsteadiness over sudden bumps sending them both off the road and into snowbanks.
It sapped Breen's confidence and he eased back to ensure a solid fifth place finish but Meeke dropped to 12th after being stranded in the trees for eight minutes during the Saturday leg although he finished strongly with fourth place and two points on the final Power Stage.
Explaining his Saturday excursion into the trees, Meeke said: "I was really struggling to keep the rear in line and I was conscious of that and trying not to do anything stupid. But as I went over a slight right corner over a crest the rear stepped out and I went completely 90 degrees to the road on an entry to a left-hander so I couldn't make the corner.
"But we take every kilometre to try and learn and we have work to do before the next round in Mexico."
Breen was equally perplexed. "I struggled to get a feel with the rear of the car. I couldn't keep it in line and it gave me a lot of frights. On some stages it wasn't so bad but on others it would catch you by surprise," he said.
But the rally was a triumph for Toyota, back in the series after a 17 year gap, and for Latvala and team boss Tommi Makinen who has created the new Yaris WRC from scratch. After second place on debut in Monte Carlo and now winning in Sweden they lead the World championship.
It was Latvala's fourth win in Sweden but the Finn had it handed to him when long-time leader Thierry Neuville astonishingly hit a concrete bollard on the short spectator stage late on Saturday, forcing the retirement of his Hyundai.
Latvala, who finished fourth on the 2003 Ulster Rally as a teenager, comfortably held off the M-Sport Ford Fiestas of Ott Tanak and World champion Sebastien Ogier on the final leg including winning the Power Stage. Dani Sordo was fourth ahead of Breen with Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans in sixth for Ford.
Meanwhile Jonny Greer pulled off a surprise but thoroughly deserved victory in the Pacenotes Stages Rally at Kirkistown, his first in the Northern Ireland championship.
Against the likes of reigning champion Derek McGarrity, who won the non-champinship event at the same venue a week earlier, and former Irish national champion Peadar Hurson, Greer was the outsider. But he dominated the rally in his DGM team Citroen DS3 R5, leading from the start and setting fastest times on five of the six stages.
McGarrity finished 13 seconds back in second place in his R5 Ford Fiesta with Hurson a further half minute behind on his first outing in his new WRC Fiesta. Robin Phillips, who was NI champion back in 2000, finished fourth in his S10 Subaru and Kieran Graffin, driving Keith Cronin's Tarmac championship-winning R5 Citroen, was fifth ahead of Alan Carmichael in his WRC Mini. Connor McCloskey retired his WRC Fiesta from third place on stage five.
Another former champion Kenny McKinstry was seventh, his S8 Subaru struggling with a misfire early on, and Philip Allen won the production category in eighth place in his Mitsubishi. Keith White was top of the two-wheel-drive division, ninth in his Ford Escort, ahead of the Darrian of veteran Dessie McCartney. Sam Adams was the winner of the Junior 1000 round in his little Skoda Citigo.
The Moffett brothers, Sam and Josh, in their R5 Fiestas fought out the finish of the Loughran Memorial Rally at Carrick-on-Suir, younger sibling Josh edging Sam by ?? seconds and the two of them finishing ahead of reigning Tarmac champion Keith Cronin who appeared for the first time in an R5 Fiesta.
Reigning Irish forest champion Desi Henry, having made an overnight ferry trip from Wales when the Cambrian Rally was cancelled after just one stage because of dangerously icy conditions, finished fourth ahead of Marty McCormack, both in Skoda Fabias. Adrian Hetherington completed the top six in his WRC Toyota.