Meeke drives to biggest win
Kris Meeke flew back across the Atlantic on cloud nine, savouring the biggest, most important win of his rally career.
The former British junior champion from Dungannon won the Rally de Curitiba in Brazil, leading from start to finish, to get his bid for the Intercontinental Rally Challenge into gear.
He and co-driver Paul Nagle beat the reigning IRC champion, Nicolas Vouilloz of France, by 26 seconds with Italian Giandomenica Basso in third.
After crashing out in the Monte Carlo Rally, the opening round of the IRC series, Meeke was under pressure to deliver in Brazil and he did, in stunning fashion, setting the fastest times on all seven of the opening leg stages to build a 48-second overnight lead.
But running first on the road through the lush Brazilian forests on Saturday, sweeping away the loose gravel for the following cars, and then hit by brake trouble, he saw his lead cut to 22 seconds by the midway service point.
In the afternoon, however, he held the chasing group at bay with two more fastest times and finished comfortably ahead of Vouilloz, also in a Peugeot 207, from the Belgian-based Kronos Racing team, and the Fiat Abarth of 2006 champion Basso.
“It was just about a perfect rally for me,” reflected Meeke. “I loved the stages from the moment Paul and I started to make our pacenotes; they were fast, very fast, and flowing but with a consistent level of grip.
“Strangely, it was my first real gravel rally in three years but right from the start I had a good rhythm although I was surprised to be so far in front.”
It was the first win in a global championship by an Irish driver since Paddy Hopkirk back in the Sixties, and one which begins to repay the faith in him by Peugeot UK and Marc van Dalen, the Kronos Racing boss who pressed to have him on board,
Belgian veteran Freddie Loix finished fourth in his Peugeot and now leads the IRC series on 13 points, three ahead of Meeke, Basso and Monte Carlo winner Sebastien Ogier, all on 10.