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Kris Meeke roars ahead on return to the World stage

By Sammy Hamill

Published 21/05/2016

Setting the pace: Kris Meeke powered into the lead of the Rally of Portugal, but needed his notional time on the fifth stage to be re-assessed
Setting the pace: Kris Meeke powered into the lead of the Rally of Portugal, but needed his notional time on the fifth stage to be re-assessed

Kris Meeke made a stunning return to the World championship yesterday and leads the Rally of Portugal by nearly half a minute heading into today's second leg.

But it took the intervention of the rally stewards and his Abu Dhabi Citroen team to prevent a huge injustice.

The Dungannon driver, who in the last three months has been concentrating on the development of the team's new-for-2017 car, came back to dominate the opening day in his Citroen DS3, building a 20-second lead over the Volkswagen of champion Sebastien Ogier after four stages.

But on the fifth stage yesterday, Hayden Paddon and Ott Tanak crashed at the same corner, their two cars catching fire.

Paddon's Hyundai was destroyed but Tanak managed to put out the fire in his Ford Fiesta. Meeke was one of a number of drivers forced to stop. They were subsequently awarded a notional time for the stage based on the last car to complete it unhindered.

It saw Meeke given the same time as Ford's Eric Camilli which was 44 seconds slower than the fastest time set by Hyundai's Dani Sordo, dropping him to third place.

The young Frenchman had been a long way off Meeke's pace all day and the notional time was clearly wrong. Meeke shrugged, saying he wasn't getting involved and would leave it to the team.

They intervened and the rally stewards re-assessed the times, awarding Meeke an identical time to his first run through the same stage earlier in the day. And with another fastest time on the final forest stage of the day, the Ulsterman was re-established at the top of the leaderboard.

A puncture cost Sordo second place and he dropped behind Ogier who had VW team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen in fourth with Hyundai's Thierry Neuville fifth. Stephane Lefebrve, Meeke's French team-mate, was sixth.

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