Meeke blunder sees him crash out with regrets
Kris Meeke emerged from Rally France bruised and shaken but it was his pride which took the biggest battering.
As team-mate Dani Sordo took a second successive podium for Mini, finishing a handful of seconds behind the winning Citroen of Sebastien Ogier, Meeke was left to rue the mistake which cost him fifth place.
The former IRC champion from Dungannon had been running strongly in fourth place but had fallen behind the Ford of Jari-Matti Latvala on stage 12 of the Strasbourg-based round of the World Championship.
As he raised his pace in an effort to regain the position, Meeke’s Mini Countryman ran wide on a fifth gear right-hander, catching loose gravel on the outside of the corner and skating off the road into the trees.
Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle escaped without serious injury but the car was too badly damaged to continue.
Meeke said it was “completely my mistake.”
“I had made a small adjustment to the pace note for the corner after the first run through in the morning and tried to go a little bit faster,” he explained.
“But it was too fast and we caught the gravel and so we simply understeered off the road.
“I was just a bit ambitious and it was completely my mistake. I have to take it on the chin,” he added.
Sordo, meanwhile, drove superbly, following up on his third place in Germany by leading the French event before being edged out by young local ace Ogier.
Petter Solberg and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson finished third after their privateer Citroen lost time with a puncture.
With Sebastien Loeb being forced out with engine failure the World Championship is now wide open, Ogier and Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen, who was fourth, both within three points of the seven-times champion with two rounds remaining.
Further back, Alastair Fisher was promoted to first place in the WRC Academy category after Yeray Lemes was handed a five minute penalty for speed limit infringements on a road section.
The Academy category had initially been dominated by Craig Breen but he was forced to retire after his Ford Fiesta hit a bank, breaking a driveshaft.
Daragh O’Riordan won the final round of the Irish Tarmac championship, the Cork ‘20’ International, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Tim McNulty becoming champion for the first time.
McNulty, the Ulster Rally winner, finished 45 seconds behind the young Cork driver in a Subaru one-two.
And third place for Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings in his Mitsubishi saw him take the production championship.